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 Wired.co.uk 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 (!!!).
 by me