Where is the infinite scroll taking your user?

The Scroll has almost turned into a subliminal call to action. There’s no need for instruction. If you’re on our page, we can safely assume that scrolling comes instinctively to you. The reading style of your user too will likely be compatible with Infinite Scroll. Today, it feels like most designers have dumped the click and swipe and instead opting for the scroll. It’s not hard to see why. The infinite scroll, like a loose slot machine, keeps users engaged and addicted by making them feel like there’s so much more just beyond a scroll.

But as a user, after spending hours scrolling through Instagram, Facebook or Twitter we often feel bloated with information, and yet wholly unsatisfied. Infinite scrolling often leaves us feeling disoriented as we scroll down a page that never ends. Google has adopted infinite scrolling for image search results but has yet to implement it for its general results. Google will probably maintain pagination because this pattern is quite symbolic for its brand. But if they did introduce the scroll, users will no longer need to click to reach the next page. If you count yourself among the 94% of Google users who stop reading after the first page displaying ten results, when would you stop now? After 17 results? 30? You want to stop scrolling at the 15th item, but the 16th is directly in sight. With a paginated list, on which you wouldn’t see the 16th result, choosing not to continue browsing is easier. But when the next result is already there, you’d probably keep scrolling. So when does a smooth browsing experience turn into a draining one?

Why infinite scrolling?

Infinite scrolling is an interaction, highly trending behavior across lists and pages. The functionality of a scroll is to keep loading content automatically as the user scrolls. In today’s age, where we generate and consume massive amounts of data, the infinite scroll allows an efficient way to wade through that sea of data without having to wait for pages to preload. Instead, we get to enjoy a truly responsive experience, irrespective of the device.

Do users really want a never-ending stream of information?

Analytics show that only 6% of Google users advance to the second page. Meaning, 94% of users are happy with consuming only ten results, which also goes to mean that users find the way Google ranks its content to be relevant. Increasing number of studies show that infinite scrolling doesn't resonate with users if it doesn’t support their goal on your site.

Infinite scrolling stands the risk of leaving your users feeling overwhelmed as they lose control over the amount of data being shown. Users might get disorientated with the amount of information they have to process as they scroll and have difficulty sorting between relevant and irrelevant information. These users will be less likely to engage by clicking on content, defeating the very purpose of engaging design.

There is something nice about defined pages, where the amount of content is quantified, on which you can comfortably decide whether to click to view more or to stop. Have you used the footer of Facebook lately? You'll find it below the news feed. As the feed scrolls, more data loads before you reach the bottom, keeping the footer out of view each time. Footers contain content that the user sometimes needs. If users can’t reach it easily enough to access the information they need, they might leave your site altogether. If you plan on implementing the infinite scroll either relocate the links to a sidebar or make the footer accessible by making it sticky.

Also, we all know what it means when a site with the infinite scrolling feature crashes. It means you’ll have to reload the page and start from the top. Even clicking on a link means you lose your place on the scroll, therefore discouraging users from clicking. We’ve all been trained to interact with content as soon as we see it if we don’t want to get lost in the process of trying to get back to a segment of the page. Social media platforms like Facebook have leveraged this detriment of Infinite Scroll to boost their user interaction.

When does it work?

Twitter has integrated infinite scrolling effectively. The user can browse through an infinitely increasing bunch of tweets and can easily click on a tweet to expand it in place, thereby preventing the page from reloading and, as a result, keeping their scroll position.

A hybrid of pagination and infinite scrolling is also a good route to pick. With this, you would display a “load more” button at the end of a preloaded list, which when clicked, loads another bunch of items onto the list. This button does on demand the same behavior the infinite scroll does automatically. Also, users tend to expect a footer. If the footer-specific information is functional to your interface, then a fixed footer, at the bottom of your page is usually the way to go with infinite scrolling.

Consider the masonry grid layout Pinterest made famous. It forces the eye to abandon order and glance quickly through content without direction, by packing more images onto the screen but slowing down your scrolling. The amount of enticing content speeds users up, making them scroll while retaining their attention and moderating their thirst for more stimulation as the grid slows them down. Pinterest is another example of a design tweak that let them benefit from using the infinite scroll feature.

Users are goal-oriented. When going through social media, it’s often to kill time. Infinite scrolling fits perfectly here. When browsing e-commerce websites, they’re often looking for something in particular. Infinite scroll has to account for this to be effective. None of our pages are truly infinite. Even when the content hasn't finished loading, users should always know where they stand. And sometimes allowing users a tiny bit of friction like that ‘load more’ button you allow for, to stop reading could leave them feeling empowered.

Takeaway

If your page hosts flat, non-hierarchical content and the goal is consumption with not much need to keep a frame of reference, then you’re bound to benefit from what the infinite scroll feature has to offer. If you house structured, multi-faceted content, there’s a finding goal there. A frame of reference is useful here, and the end of a page can trigger a useful decision moment, then you’re better off without the infinite scroll. Maybe just the scroll?

We understand how user habits form and how those very habits trap designers. Once users learn how to use a feature, they develop habits based on their expectations of how the service works. Here, that design becomes a competitive advantage as users find it difficult to switch to a competitor’s product because it “doesn’t feel right” even if it functionally works just as well.

The infinite scroll, while certainly not ideal for every case, with its ability to load dynamic content, efficient use of the mobile screen and edge in keeping users engaged means we’ll all be doing a lot more scrolling.

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