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.

Malta Independent - - ENEWS & TECH - Kamila Ge­bal­ska Kamila Ge­bal­ska is a lead UX de­signer at Alert Dig­i­tal by Deloitte. For more info, please go to www.alert.com.mt

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…?

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