Infinite scrolling gives a better experience for users. However, the good side is often accompanied by the bad side, or known as pros and cons. Once we understand the strengths and weaknesses of infinite scrolling, we can begin to use it to enhance our interfaces.
Human nature demands hierarchy and structures that are easy to navigate. But infinite scrolling sometimes leaves users feeling disoriented as they travel down a page that never ends.
The Non-Stop Scrolling
Long lists are not new, but the way in which we scroll these lists has fundamentally changed since the arrival of mobile interfaces. Due to the narrowness of mobile screens, list items are arranged vertically, requiring frequent scrolling.
Infinite scrolling is highly trending as an interaction behavior on pages and lists. The basic functionality is that, as the user scrolls through content, more content is loaded automatically. With the popularity of social media, massive amounts of data are being consumed; infinite scrolling offers an efficient way to browse that ocean of information, without having to wait for pages to pre-load. Rather, the user enjoys a truly responsive experience, whatever device they’re using.
Websites with lots of user-generated content today are using infinite scrolling to handle content that is being generated every second. By unspoken agreement, users are aware that they won’t get to see everything on these websites, because the content is updated too frequently. With infinite scrolling, social websites are doing their best to expose as much information as possible to the user.
Twitter integrates infinite scrolling effectively. It’s feed fits the criteria: a large amount of data (tweets) and a real-time platform. From the perspective of the user, all tweets are equally relevant, meaning that they have the same potential to be interesting or uninteresting; so, users will often scroll through all of the tweets in their feed. Being a real-time platform, Twitter is constantly being updated, even if the user leaves their feed unattended. Infinite scrolling seems to have been created especially for websites like Twitter, which successfully employs the technology.
Infinite scrolling appears to have found its niche on the Web. However, there are also drawbacks that must be considered before assessing its value.
It’s also worth noting that infinite scroll does not make your website load any slower than a traditionally formatted website, and according to a QuickSprout article, each time a user scrolls down and more content is loaded, that will count as a new page view in your Analytics.
With so much data to browse, users must stay focused on the information they are searching for. (Remember about being goal-oriented?) Do users always want a never-ending stream of data? Analytics show that when users search for information on Google, only 6% advance to the second page. So, 94% of users are satisfied with receiving only 10 results, which suggests that users find Google’s ranking of results to be relevant.
Click or Not
Google has implemented infinite scrolling for image search results, but has yet to implement it for its general results. Doing so would eliminate the need for users to click to reach the second page. Google will probably maintain pagination because this pattern is quite symbolic for its brand. If it does switch to infinite scrolling, when would users typically stop scrolling? After 20 results? 50? When does an easy browsing experience become more complicated?
Looking for the best search result could take a second or an hour, depending on your research. But when you decide to stop searching in Google’s current format, you know the exact number of search results. You can make an informed decision about where to stop or how many results to peruse because you know where the end is. According to studies conducted in the field of human-computer interaction, reaching an end point provides a sense of control; you know that you have received all relevant results, and you know whether the one you are looking for is there or not. Knowing the number of results available provides a sense of control and helps the user make a more informed decision, rather than be left to scour an infinitely scrolling list.
When items are distributed across Web pages, they are framed and indexed and have a start and end point. The information is presented clearly and orderly. If we select an item from a paginated list and are taken from that page, we know that clicking “Back” will return us to that page (probably to the same scroll position). Our Web search will continue right where it left off.
If you scroll the same list of results with infinite scrolling, you are left without that sense of control because you are scrolling through a list that is conceptually infinite. Let’s say you count yourself among the 94% who stop reading after the first page (i.e. 10 results) of a Google search. When the list scrolls infinitely, there is essentially no end of the first page. Rather than look for the end of the page, which doesn’t exist anyway, you decide to stop scrolling at the 10th item. This poses a problem with infinite scrolling, because the 11th item is directly in sight. With a paginated list, on which you wouldn’t see the 11th result, deciding not to continue browsing is easier. However, when the next results are already there, you’d probably just keep on scrolling and scrolling.
When Infinite Scrolling Fails
The best companies are constantly testing and studying new interactions with their users. Increasing numbers of these studies are showing that infinite scrolling does not resonate with users if it does not support their goal of the website.
When you’re looking for that perfect search result and are tempted to continue scrolling into a wasteland of irrelevant results, time is wasted. Chances are that the best result will appear in the first 10 items. Therefore, infinite scrolling merely tempts you to continue reading, wasting time and decreasing productivity in the process.
Even more annoying is that scroll bars do not reflect the actual amount of data available. You’ll scroll down happily assuming you are close to the bottom, which by itself tempts you to scroll that little bit more, only to find that the results have just doubled by the time you get there.
Infinite scrolling overwhelms users with stimuli. Like playing a game that you can never win, no matter how far you scroll, you feel like you’ll never get to the end. The combination of temptation and optimism play a big role in exhausting the user.
Infinite scrolling often causes your position on the page to get lost. “Pogosticking” happens when you click away from an infinitely scrolling list and, when you return by clicking “Back,” are brought to the top of the previous page, instead of to the point where you left off. This happens because the scroll position is lost when you navigate away from an infinitely scrolling page, forcing you to scroll back down each time.
Infinite scrolling leaves you with the feeling that you might be missing out on information. You continue scrolling because the results are right there, but you feel overwhelmed because you’re losing control over the amount of data being shown. There is something nice about defined pages on which the amount of content is quantified, where you can comfortably choose whether to click to view more or to stop. With infinite scrolling, you don’t have control over the amount of data on the page, which becomes overwhelming.
Etsy, an e-commerce marketplace, implemented infinite scrolling, only to find that it led to fewer clicks from its users. Infinite scrolling was unsuccessful because users felt lost in the data and had difficulty sorting between relevant and irrelevant information. While infinite scrolling provided faster and more results, users were less willing to click on them, defeating its very purpose.
Have you tried reaching the footer of Facebook lately? The footer block exists below the news feed, but because the feed scrolls infinitely, more data get loaded as soon as you reach the bottom, pushing the footer out of view every time. Footers exist for a reason: they contain content that the user sometimes needs. In Facebook’s case, the user can’t reach it. The links are repeated elsewhere, but are harder to find. Infinite scrolling impedes the user by making important information inaccessible.
Footers serve as a last resort. If users can’t find something or they have questions or want more information or explanation, they often go there. If they don’t find it there, they might leave the website altogether. Companies that implement infinite scrolling should either make the footer accessible by making it sticky or relocate the links to a sidebar.