From here to… infinity – a curious case of scrolling
For some time now, it has become clear that the majority of everyday internet experiences is shifting towards interactions with our smartphones.
Easy access, quick responses, mobility – all these factors have helped smart phones become the first choice for fast and casual web connection. The fact that we’re using our smartphones mostly for instant social media access makes an impact on how the whole mobile experience is being perceived and subsequently created by web designers and developers. Due to these practices, the classic desktop version of a website has also transformed. One great example of a new concept that has its roots in the mobile phone internet experience is the infinite scroll, which aims to keep the user constantly immersed and engaged with never ending content. It’s also easy to figure out that this idea stems from the simple fact that the screen of a phone is just too small to pack all the data we want to have at the tip of our finger.
To get a great example of the infinite scroll, we don’t have to look further than Facebook. It’s the functionality that loads more content right when we think we’ve reached the bottom of the page. For social media platforms or news platforms, this functionality makes a lot of sense as it allows the user to see as much content as they need without breaking their immersion.
Even though infinite scrolling has its advantages, it seems to work best only on certain types of websites and some others might suffer with broken user experiences as was the case with a well-known online shopping giant that sells craft items.
The idea to introduce the infinite scroll on their website’s search results feature was based on the assumption that users wanted to see more items and see them faster when they search for something specific. It was based on the success of Google’s “instant search result”, yet there wasn’t really any user experience testing done beforehand. After some time the shopping ginat removed the feature as the transactions had begun to drop significantly. The failure opened resulting investigative discussion about the real usability of infinite scrolling and this showed that an end user doesn’t always want to be overwhelmed by never-ending data that is supposed to grab their attention. Many times this type of engagement just creates confusion and discourages interaction.
One basic assumption is that infinite scrolling is not meant for every kind of content. If we have a stream of short information that is added on the real-time basis (like Twitter) then it is pretty easy to navigate with a certain curiosity, with content showing as popups or overlays when a user choose to engage for more detail.
If we connect the infinite scroll with search engine results though (like the previously mentioned example) problems start to appear. When users get to a certain point in the stream of items, they can’t save their location and come back to it later. If they leave the page they’ll lose all their progress and will have to scroll down again to get back to the point they’ve finished scrolling before. For specific search purposes, basic pagination is still more relevant than infinite scrolling as users can easily identify on which page and which position they were before - it eliminates chaos and creates a feeling familiarity.
Another unpleasant result of using the infinite scroll is that the scroll bar becomes absolutely irrelevant. Users will scroll down and assume by the position of the feature that they are close to the bottom of the page but then: surprise – new content starts loaded, the scroll bar moves up again, and the whole process repeats at the next ‘bottom of the page’. If users are used to manipulating the page via the scroll bar position, this reloading method becomes somewhat annoying.
If these aren’t enough reasons to dislike the infinite scroll, let’s add the fact that it renders the presence the expected website footer completely unusable. Footers are mainly used for quick access links to desirable information. On e-commerce pages we usually search for pricing/delivery information or a simple Terms and Conditions. But when the website doesn’t have a bottom to it, there can be no footer either and the information has to be shifted to some other spot on the website making it much harder to find as it is no longer an intuitive process.
Finally, to close this seemingly endless list of disadvantages, the infinite scroll simply degrades the performance of a website as all the data that has to load needs a lot of browser resources to render the page.
So, in conclusion, there is not much good to say about the infinite scrolling experience when we look at it from web designer’s, web developer’s or even user’s perspective. But who said that we should only pay attention to good and practical web solutions? If we want to recognise the good ones we also have to acknowledge the bad ones.
Of course it’s not all that bad because we did mention initially that infinite scrolling did have some good sides for certain type of websites. Yet using this feature on many others only seems to create chaos, choice paralysis and confusion which nobody wants as part of their web experience. So if you’re considering using such feature on your website think first and foremost if that’s what users of your platform are looking for as well.
Now you have reached the bottom of this article, are you expecting more to load…?