Google tries to save the web from the curse of 'infinite scrolling'

Google tries to save the web from the curse of 'infinite scrolling'

Summary: "Infinite scrolling" is fashionable but, as usually implemented, it breaks important web features and makes things harder to find, even for Google. But Google has a demo that might help...

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"Infinite scrolling" is fashionable, but it is still one of the abominations of today's web. Indeed, it subverts the web's original intention, and destroys its basic design promise.

The whole idea of a URL is that a link points to a resource and that clicking the link gets you the information you need. With "infinite scrolling", it usually doesn't. It takes you to a web page where that information once resided -- during the search robot's brief visit. Maybe you can find it if you keep scrolling down for a few dozen pages, depending on the age of the link, but you probably won't.

Sometimes, "infinite scrolling" means you can never get the information you want. Twitter's follower lists provide an example. If you have 10,000 to 50 million followers, just how many times are you going to scroll down? With picture-heavy websites, the amount of data consumed by "infinite scrolling" may slow your PC to a crawl or even crash your browser.

It can also be a usability nightmare because "infinite scrolling" often depends on users keeping their place, and if they switch away (eg by following a link) there's no way back. It's like reading an encyclopaedia written on a single piece of paper, rolled up like an ancient scroll. Written culture wouldn't have got very far if someone hadn't been clever enough to invent numbered pages. (As always, there's an xkcd for that.)

"Infinite scrolling" may also be bad for business. Anybody whose life depends on getting their data indexed and displayed by Google may as well shoot themselves because "infinite scrolling" makes Google's job that much harder.

Screen shot of Google's infinite scrolling demo
Google's infinite scrolling demo. Credit: ZDNet screen grab.

However, Google has come up with a possible solution, and Google’s Webmaster Trends analyst John Mueller has posted a working example at http://scrollsample.appspot.com/  Do try it. You'll notice that you can still scroll down until you get blistered fingers but the pages are numbered. Note that the URL and the page numbers along the bottom of the page get updated. If you see something you like on page 28, you can link to it, and return to it.

There's a better chance you'll remember that something was on page 28 than remember how long it took to scroll down to it. And there is zero chance that you'll remember it was half way down the page, or whatever, because "infinite scrolling" breaks the scroll bar, rendering it useless.

As far as I can tell, the main appeal of "infinite scrolling" is that it removes the friction created by making people click Next. They are more likely to scroll down five pages that click for five pages. However, a better solution would be to create much longer pages -- or at least give the user that option, like "See all" on web shopping sites. Google's demo has short pages because it's a demo, but a sensible pagination system would not limit users to seeing 10 entries. It would be easy to start with 20 or 50 and offer bigger options.

I hate pagination on short articles and I hate most photo galleries where you have to click for every pic. I prefer sites like The Atlantic's In Focus where you get all the pictures on one page and scroll down. Scrolling, on its own, is not inherently bad, any more than pagination is inherently good. It's "infinite scrolling" that's usually the problem.

I hope Google's advice, and efforts like Discourse, will lead to better "infinite scrolling", for those who feel they have to use it. However, remember that, in the words of a Nielsen Norman headline earlier this month, Infinite Scrolling is Not for Every Website.

Topics: Web development, Google

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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30 comments
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  • Stop invading privacy first

    Other 'issues' are tolerable.

    There is something called semantic zoom in Windows 8...problem solved already.
    Owl:Net
    • You obviously didn't pay attention to the message of the article

      Instead you decided to take a cheap shot at Google, which is pretty par for the course with you. Like other pro MS and anti Google people on this board, I'll ask you directly: Does Microsoft pay you for your time spent making posts on ZDnet?

      Secondly, why don't you talk about the "privacy invasion" that you mentioned. What makes Google worse than other companies, like Microsoft, who are in many of the same businesses, albeit not doing as well?

      Thirdly, and the only one relevant to this article, how is semantic zoom going to help with URLs and search? This is a Bing problem too BTW that Google is solving here.
      K B
      • Owl:Net's a troll.

        Whether he's Pro-MS, Go-GOGL, or an ABMer, he's still just a troll.

        But since we're done with that, let's answer your first question.

        Does MS pay Owl:Net to be a troll? Probably not.

        Does MS pay me to praise them? Nope.

        Does MS pay people who support them? I doubt it.

        Now, I can easily make the same assumption about the other groups.

        Is jessepollard being paid to trash Microsoft? Possibly, but that's just my guess.

        What about zero/orandy? Maybe.

        And you? I could say yes, but I won't.

        You shouldn't imply that everyone who supports Microsoft does so because they're being paid to do it.

        My reason for liking Microsoft? I'm a developer, and a gamer.

        Other people? Some are teachers, some are writers, some are business workers, and some are simply normal individuals who like the OS.

        Are most of them being paid to use Windows? Probably. It's a tool for work, after all. Mechanics are paid to use welders and wrenches, aren't they?

        Owl:Net making insults against Google? He's taking cheap shots, clearly.

        jessepollard making a cheap-shot against Windows? Completely justified and okay.
        ForeverCookie
        • It's all pathetic and childish really isn't it?

          If you don't like a product, the choice in life is simple - Don't use it.
          Why waste your own time endlessly moaning and complaining about it on forums.
          As if people are going to ditch the products they like because someone says they are rubbish?!?
          It just makes trying to have a sensible discussion, or make any observations about where a product or service needs improvement impossible.
          I like to keep this avatar to see how people pre-conceive my views just based on that image (despite it being about making friends).
          I personally have a preference for a particular platform, but use all of them, and THB they all need improvement in areas.
          Boothy_p
          • You have GOT to be kidding!

            You just won the hypocrite of the year award. Who do you think you're fooling?!? You make blatant troll posts on Apple/iOS oriented articles on an habitual basis, and then post here with your new-found faux nonpartisanship, and expect everyone to just forget about your past posting history. I repeat: you've got to be kidding.
            .DeusExMachina.
        • I'm not paid by anyone to post here

          I don't post often enough to have any significant impact on these comment boards and will go on the record to say that I'm not paid by any company to post here.

          I disagree with what you said about Owl:Net. There are certain people / names on this board who exhibit behavior like paid shills. They post very often, and are mostly here to knock down Google (sometimes Apple) and prop up Microsoft using standard MS "talking points". They post so often that it seems like they wouldn't even have time for a "real" job -- if they do, they should be fired for posting here so often.

          Would be great if Owl:Net, William.Farrel and Loverock Davidson would all admit if they are paid or not. I just admitted that I wasn't.
          K B
          • Pure nonsense about...

            "There are certain people / names on this board who exhibit behavior like paid shills. They post very often, and are mostly here to knock down Google (sometimes Apple) and prop up Microsoft"

            Absolute nonsense.

            Everyone knows as a fact that Microsoft bashing takes a huge majority of the bashing that goes on around here. And its all to often beyond the ridiculous when you see it. MS bashing is like a proverbial sport to some, its not as if they seem to actually care much about winning; largely because most of what they say is so extraordinarily biased and ludicrous real and informed people would never be able to believe a word of it, yet they so badly seem to want to play the game.

            So say what you want about the idiots who make similar idiotic remarks and exhibit trollish behavior praising MS, but lets not try and pretend that Microsoft dosnt take the worst of the idiotic remarks around here.

            Every platform has its over zealous critics to be sure, but claiming its mostly against Google and Apple is pure trash.
            Cayble
    • How does this kind of zooming

      Fix the problem of infinite pages, that most likely will change with each visit?
      Sam Wagner
    • I guess you could call that

      "the curse of 'infinite spying"

      :)
      William.Farrel
  • I assume you are talking about Windows violating your privacy...

    So stop using it.
    jessepollard
    • I assume you're still obsessed about MS

      So drop your fear of them, and move on.
      William.Farrel
      • I assime you don't have a reasonable point to make…

        … so stop your endless MS cheerleading and move on.
        radleym
  • An interesting article..

    ... descended into chaos!

    By the way, I once met that product owner, who wants his site to display over 290,000 rows. I asked him why he wants this page, as it is not reasonable to read such a long page.

    His answer was simple, "my clients would copy the data and paste it on to Excel!"

    this product one was making good money out of that and did not understand any other method, but long page.

    The above means we do need to have a great debates about long, paginated or infinite scrolling pages. If one believes Google is spying on his/her email, then do what I did: do not use Gmail for important communications!

    Owl:Net is great and honest contributor into this old fashioned, anti-Microsoft news portal, and may have been affected by Google's way of making good money out of your emails and more.
    Wonder.man
  • Here is a hint and why I like infinite scrolling...

    From your article:

    "As far as I can tell, the main appeal of "infinite scrolling" is that it removes the friction created by making people click Next. They are more likely to scroll down five pages that click for five pages."

    Who else here sees "next page", "page 2" or what not, and thinks it really means "don't click here"?
    Bruizer
    • It likely has the same effect

      as the "slide show" articles that appear here on zdnet do, people hate them and quit reading.
      cHarley1200
    • Respectfully disagree

      While I dislike the pagination of small articles, I definitely prefer clicking links to view more content rather than the infinite scroll thing. It's like Sisyphus being forced to eternally roll a boulder up a hill ... it never ends! There's no sense that you're making any progress.

      Not to mention, you can't come back at another time and pick up where you left off.
      johnd126
  • Infinite scrolling is the most annoying feature ever

    Whoever thought it was a good idea to implement this virtually never ending scrolling feature is an idiot and he should be punished to the maximum extent allowed by law. It's not elegant, its not smooth. Paging has worked well for ages. Kill the infinite scroll!!!
    j4w4
  • Infinite scrolling

    Monkey business. They keep scrolling and don't realize it's infinite.
    mit2623
  • Fading next?

    Infinite scrolling is horrible, and something I configure FF to bypass whenever possible. But what about this fade in/out shit? All OS-es seem to force it nowadays and the only reason I can see to use it is to slow everything down. If google did something that removed the "fade" crap, I might be interested.
    Dear Holy Stasis
  • ZDNet's galleries . . .

    "I hate pagination on short articles and I hate most photo galleries where you have to click for every pic. "

    *COUGH* ZDNet's galleries *COUGH*
    CobraA1