Three Twenty One

The Horror of Infinite Scroll


An earlier post discussed the endlessness of hyperlinks and the unease that comes with them: How did I end up on this page? Where (when!) did I start on this thread? How many tabs are open on my browser? Will it ever end?

Well imagine my horror when I came upon one of the latest trends in web design – infinite scrolling. This page is a good example. (The article from 2009 doesn’t have much to do with this post, but it is a good article – you should read it.) Infinite scrolling occurs when you scroll to what you think is the bottom of the webpage, and the page automatically loads posts continually as you scroll down. Facebook is another popular example. Compare this to paginated websites, where you have a limited number of posts on a page and when you reach the bottom, you have to click a link or button to load the next set of pages. The homepage of this blog is an example of pagination.

Pagination, my brain can handle. Give me new information in small, controllable amounts that I can bookmark. Infinite scrolling? The word infinite is in it, so….yeah.

Now, I realize infinite scrolling has been around for awhile and the Wired article wasn’t my first experience with it, but this is the first time I have thought extensively about it. Most likely this was due to the amount of terror infinite scrolling created in my brain, thus pushing my thoughts into the Happy Place rather than staying in this dark, dark new world. The Wired page gets bonus darkness points for presenting posts in magazine format with enticing photos and titles. The visual stimuli from the photos and titles is what triggered the panic, methinks.

So let’s think about this some more. Let’s consider infinite scrolling. What it does to my psyche is well established, and its benefits and limitations to user interface design lays beyond my scope. This article does a good job.

So is infinite scrolling the best thing since sliced bread, or the worst thing since Flash? – Patricio Robles

Also read this article, linked at the bottom, discussing Etsy’s infinite scroll fail. From a business standpoint, it turns out infinite scrolling had a negative impact for Etsy, one of those reasons being what I said before, that infinite scrolling is overwhelming.

What I want to ask is this: what does it mean to our way of ingesting information, reading text, looking at photos, browsing the web, understanding media? Since we are moving ever quicker into the age of the tablet, infinite scrolling makes sense and I, for one, will always make an exception here or there for a design choice that places looks over usability. But how does this affect our consumption of media, information, values, even noise?

I’m totes going to cop out with presenting the questions here but not having any sorts of answers. I’ve been sitting on it for a few days and haven’t formulated any viable suggestions, but maybe it will come later. How about you, what do you think about infinite scrolling?

PS. I am attending The Dark Side of the Digital conference at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Will it add to the darkness or will it shed some light? Update: Some info on that here.

PPS. In doing research for this post, I opened 8 tabs. Only 2 of them used infinite scrolling, one of them being mine (!!!).

[1] by me

5 comments on “The Horror of Infinite Scroll

  1. irene
    May 8, 2013

    It’s interesting… I’ll admit I really, really hated infinite scroll when it was first introduced, but now I’ve grown to like it! That said, I use it on Tumblr/Pinterest… so it works for me when I’m trying to consume a lot of visual information with less effort.
    I’m not sure it would work as well with textual info… so yes! I think it does have interesting implications for how we ingest information. I think I tend to take IS websites less serious/ see it as a “junk food” type of site.


    • Shirley
      May 8, 2013

      That is such an interesting viewpoint – IS websites tend to be more junk food. That must come from the notion that you want to quickly browse through a lot of visual information with less effort. I agree, for that function, IS works well. It works in Facebook because my interest in each new item is less intense than in other formats, like shopping on Etsy. Plus, it is easier to digest when it is one post at a time, rather than a gallery of posts per line. Interesting!


  2. isabel
    August 26, 2013

    I really dislike the infinite scroll, on Facebook and Pinterest and everywhere else I’ve run across it. My complaint is not the endlessness of it, but the way the page jumps around as it reloads the additional pics or info. It never jumps back to the exact spot I was, and so I have to rescroll to find where I was. That seems to eat up any time saved as compared to the time in clicking with pagination, plus it has a huge annoyance factor that I don’t feel at all with pagination. I actually kind of like the breathing space of clicking for pagination, and the hidden nature of the rest of the information/imagery.


  3. isabel
    August 27, 2013

    As I further contemplated IS, I realized I actually would like the option for fast scrolling in Pinterest, say, if the coders could figure out a way to keep loading the images at the bottom without the jumping around thing that happens there. Then having that option… to peruse and skim quickly would be helpful!


    • Shirley
      September 1, 2013

      Definitely that mental “bookmarking” we do with websites is lost with IS, I could not agree more. One of my biggest dislikes about it as well.

      I’ve seen IS loading that keeps your spot as it loads… if I think of one, I can post them here. But yes, so annoying when it jumps around!


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This entry was posted on May 6, 2013 by in Internet and tagged , .

Stuff I said before

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