Infinite scroll has become a darling feature of websites, rolling out on new platforms every day, streamlining content consumption for readers who will never have to hit a "next page" button again. But that’s precisely the problem: the endless content stream may be destroying the reading experience by removing the sensation of "completion" entirely.
The development of infinite scroll has streamlined the flowing of information to your brain into a frictionless, clickless firehose that serves up more content, then more, then more. So, is infinite scroll the brain-rotting equivalent of television? Or is it a "feature?"
Firstly: It has a purpose. Pagination makes for awful UX on a lot of (noncontent) sites—things like lists and photo galleries, for examples. Pagination taxes browser memory, creates script difficulties, and requires waiting for a page refresh. As far as infinite-scroll.com can reckon, infinite scroll can be traced back to a June 2005 greasemonkey script called "Google Auto Pager," though director of UI engineering at PayPal Bill Scott also threw his weight behind the concept around the same time. A year later, questions arose about the failure to navigate on a pageless stream of content, a problem that has yet to be solved. In 2008, another post expressed the anxiety that emerges when content consumption progress isn’t tracked via pagination. So this is an issue that has been near-boil for years, but has only tipped this year, as infinite scroll became trendy with web designers.
For better or worse, infinite scroll has remained simple, with few examples of mid-scroll navigation to either return to the top (like Tumblr’s dashboard) or indicate content consumption progress. Still, debate continues to rage over infinite scroll’s value. In his infamous post "Dissolving That Print Mentality," digital publisher Thomas Baekdal said that conforming to print expectations puts the format first and the content second, that we’re satisfied with the dancing bear of pagination because we’re complacent that it’s appearing on the Internet at all.
The UI argument is important. Tech issues will be worked out and midstream navigation will follow—long-form gaming journalism outlet Polygon is a notable example. DesignShack echoes the concerns noted above, but notes that without infinite scroll progress, we wouldn’t have projects like DistanceToMars, which uses the infinite scroll to emphasize galactic distance. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @fastcolabs if you think there are specific instances where infinite scroll is (or isn't) permissible.
[Image: Flickr user Tim RT]