February 4, 2013

The Problem With Infinite Scroll

Infinite scroll is becoming more and more common these days. You’ve no doubt seen it: When you think you’re about to reach the bottom of the page it automagically adds a new set of items thus prolonging the page without you ever seeing the end of it. As you keep scrolling downwards, the site does this over and over again, preventing the page to ever end.

I hate that.

OK, so I don’t actually hate that, but I do think it is an overused technique that breaks the design of most sites.

Here’s the thing: Most good looking site consist of a top, a middle, and a bottom. The top of the site, often referred to as the header, is complemented by the bottom the site, or footer if you will. The header and footer ties the design together, balanced by the actual content (and whatever side-columns and whatnot you might have) in between.

Designs that employ infinite scroll more often than not lack this sense of completeness. I often liken them to a roll of toilet paper with words or doodles scribbled on it. There’s a start, because the roll has to start somewhere and that’s what you see when you pick it up, but you will tear off the paper when you’ve unrolled the amount you need. You’ll see the top, but never the bottom, and although a roll of toilet paper unfortunately isn’t infinite, the thought of you perusing the whole thing and thus getting to the end is disturbing if anything.

Much like infinite scrolling, because if you’ll scroll to the end of your Twitter timeline you should seek professional help.

Design aspects and toilet paper aside, there is another problem with infinite scrolling. A lot of sites relying on this technique seem to forget about their footer. This can be troublesome when important informational links that some, albeit not all, users will want to peruse are often destined for the footer. How do you reach the footer if the site is pushing it down with more content all the time? You scroll like a madman, hack the code through whatever web inspector you prefer, or just leave the site in disgust.

Is there a place for infinite scrolling? Of course, Twitter is the perfect example of a site where it feels warranted, although I don’t think they employ it in a particularly pretty fashion. Then again Twitter’s website isn’t all that impressive to begin with design-wise, so what it should perhaps be expected.

The next time you think that infinite scrolling is a good idea, think again. After all, you don’t want your site to be likened to toilet paper do you?

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.