The Perpetual Scrolling Web Pages

21 Oct 2009 - 4:42pm
4 years ago
13 replies
3355 reads
Chad Mortensen
2007

I've been noticing more and more Ajax powered pages where at the end
of the normal page end a call is made to fetch more content and is
added to the bottom of the page, in essence making the page longer on
the fly. A good example of this is on http://www.haystack.com
Twitter and Facebook do something similar but a button or link is
needed to expand the content.

I can a usability issue with clicking on a link and then having the
back button not return you to the same 'long' page you left from.

This seems like a great way to display a shopping cart type list, or
search results.

Can anyone think of other usability issues with going this route?

Comments

21 Oct 2009 - 5:33pm
Joe Lanman
2007

It's an odd one, and feels like it fits browsing better than search. For
instance, I love it on www.flickriver.com, where I can browse endlessly
through photos, but I wouldn't like it as default Google behaviour. I'm not
quite sure why that is.. I can think of two possibilities:

1) It feels more 'manageable' to get pages of search results that aren't
more than a couple of screens or so. I can quickly scan this page and assess
the results.
2) There's the possibility, even if you dont use it much, to skip through
non-consecutive results. With an infinite scroll interface, you can't skip -
you have to load sequentially.

Other aspects are browser related - as mentioned you can't use the back
button to return to previous results, and you can't easily get a permalink
to your current screen.

2009/10/21 Chad Mortensen <chadmor at gmail.com>

> I've been noticing more and more Ajax powered pages where at the end
> of the normal page end a call is made to fetch more content and is
> added to the bottom of the page, in essence making the page longer on
> the fly. A good example of this is on http://www.haystack.com
> Twitter and Facebook do something similar but a button or link is
> needed to expand the content.
>
> I can a usability issue with clicking on a link and then having the
> back button not return you to the same 'long' page you left from.
>
> This seems like a great way to display a shopping cart type list, or
> search results.
>
> Can anyone think of other usability issues with going this route?
> ________________________________________________________________
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21 Oct 2009 - 5:42pm
Ariel Leroux
2009

I've only once seen this done where it just wasn't that great, and
it wasn't the idea - it was... whatever the heck was done in the
backend because it took too long to pull the information across as
you scrolled.

Another example to add to the list of this which I very much like,
would be the new Bing image search.

The only red-flag that I get just at the initial thought is the issue
of scrolling for anything. A whole lot of people dislike even having
to scroll. However, I really believe that there are great levels of
site-scrolling forgiveness because of context.

Used in the wrong setting - it could be a poor choice of technology
use.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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21 Oct 2009 - 5:10pm
Calvin C. Chan
2009

Virtual scrollbar is a visual cue of how long the page is going to be.
It is one of the native visual language for most of the computer users
nowadays.

In my own experience, during the first half second when opening a new
page, I would quickly glance at the right side of the page for the
v-scrollbar, feel the loading speed of content and images, and then
subconsciously evaluate whether it's worth waiting for the page load
to finish, or rather switch to another browser tab to do something
else.

If the v-scrollbar "lies" and showing different length every time I
visit, it's annoying and confusing. Also I'd have this nervous
feeling of never being able to reach the bottom of the page.

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21 Oct 2009 - 6:23pm
Anonymous

The perpetual scrolling behaviour can be achieved on many websites
(including Google) with this Firefox add-on:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4925 . Considering it's
quite popular there seem to people who enjoy this kind of behaviour
across all kinds of different websites.

Personally, I think for people who are familiar with the scroll wheel,
perpetual scrolling eases interaction with webpages that are lists of a
lot of items to look through. It allows to skim through the page even
faster without stopping to click on next pages links, while scanning for
interesting items. I'm afraid it may not be so good for the advertising
on the webpage though.

22 Oct 2009 - 8:30am
johnwromano
2008

I like the sites that give you a button at the bottom to add content
on click (like Facebook). Automatic perpetual scrolling introduces
several glitchy usability issues in some browsers. While using a
scroll wheel works well, using the scroll bar becomes dicey. Dragging
a scroll bar down on a page makes the bar jump and jitter because it
continues to resize the page content. Also, clicking below the scroll
handle on the scoll bar to 'page down' can often jump more than a
page because the browser is recalculating the size of the page (seen
in Firefox Mac).

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22 Oct 2009 - 9:17pm
IvoP
2009

> If the v-scrollbar "lies" and showing different length every time I
> visit, it's annoying and confusing. Also I'd have this nervous
> feeling of never being able to reach the bottom of the page.

I agree in that I find it very annoying & uncomfortable, makes it hard for me to scan ahead in a page and later attempt to return to a previous position. I see this behavior in Google Reader, twitter archives and lately I think it was the Linked In Updates page.

- Ivo

23 Oct 2009 - 7:12am
Kaleem
2008

The first time I saw saw "infinite scroll" implemented on a large
scale was in a July 2006 preview when Microsoft's Phil Holden,
director of Windows Live, previewed the September 2006 launch of a
whole suite of Windows Live tools as Microsoft transitioned from MSN.

Windows Live Image Search was that implementation (what Ariel
referred to as the new Bing image search). In relatively small sets
of results infinite scroll can be tolerable and even useful. In any
sizable set it is undesirable for the reasons other commenters have
mentioned above.

Usability issues with infinite scroll include:

- the lack of affordance makes it difficult for many people to scan
or assess content using the heuristics that they expect
- one usually loses the long page upon reloading it
- it is the visual equivalent of the "lost in hyperspace"
phenomenon that most people experienced in the early days of the Web
before the prevalence of good search engines -- in most cases, no
context is bad.

Chad mentioned the variations of infinite scroll on Facebook and
Twitter. I'll be interested to see how behaviour changes as Facebook
in particular shapes it along with interaction design paradigms and
expectations of hundreds of millions of people.

Finally, I direct you to a similar IxDA list discussion I remembered
from almost 2 years ago:

Continuous Scroll
http://www.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=25287

-K

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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23 Oct 2009 - 3:37pm
Brian Mila
2009

I wonder if you could address some of the "I feel lost" problems by
displaying tick marks in or near the scrollbar at every point that
the user stops scrolling. So if you see one full page, then scroll
down, the size and position of the scrollbar thumb may change, but
you could add a permanent tick mark that would maintain its relative
position. In this way I wonder if you could at least maintain some
context to where you've been and how much you've already seen.
Perhaps a way to bookmark the ticks to allow a way to jump back might
be another idea.

Why am I saying this? Because as distracting as it is now to use it,
I think it could be a much more natural interface paradigm, if it can
be implemented correctly. Does anyone remember when dropdown menus
were new, and they were all kludgy and awkward? Thats where I think
the infinite scroll is right now.

Brian

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24 Oct 2009 - 1:03pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Oct 23, 2009, at 1:37 PM, Brian Mila wrote:

> Does anyone remember when dropdown menus
> were new, and they were all kludgy and awkward?

Are dropdown menus not kludgy and awkward now? Did I miss them memo?

:)

I agree that inifinite scroll, implemented well, has a lot of
potential. I think that someone needs to really push this hard and
test out a lot of prototypes with real users, to get it tuned just
right. This is always how we've made advances with these types of
interaction paradigms.

Jared

26 Oct 2009 - 8:49am
Brian Mila
2009

I just came across this today on konigi.com.....thought it was
relevant to this discussion. Its an indicator on the side of the
page next to the scrollbar, that shows the relative size of a blog
post compared to the comments it generates. You can see it in action
here:

http://www.stainlessvision.com/lab/scrollbar-contents/example.html

Something like this would be a nice complement to the infinite
scroll.

Brian

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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26 Oct 2009 - 11:27am
Paul Bryan
2008

The perpetual scroll example above reminds me of the sequential access
paradigm of an audio cassette. You can't get to the middle until
you've scrolled through each section.

I think the dynamically built long pages would be easier to use if
they loaded with a visual representation of the whole information
set, and a means to drop yourself down into any part of it,
preferably with pagination so you can return to the house you liked
on screen 23, instead of reading through descriptions one by one to
find it.

I suspect people would view more products per search if they could
quickly scan an "endless aisle" with one interaction (click and
drag) instead of accessing catalog list pages as currently (click,
scroll, find next button, click, scroll, find next button, click,
etc). Particularly if pages were sortable by category-specific
parameters and had virtual page number display during scrolling (like
MS Word) for pseudo-random access.

Would need to test it, but I like the potential for familiar
rapid-scanning cognitive processes.

Paul Bryan
Usography (http//www.usography.com)
Blog: Virtual Floorspace (http://www.virtualfloorspace.com)
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/uxexperts

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26 Oct 2009 - 11:52am
Chad Mortensen
2007

Pros vs. Cons for me so far coming from a commerce point of view.
A pro for me is helping the "browsing user" quickly and easily
continue on their browsing path with the least amount of distraction
possible. If a user happens upon the end of a page and is then shown
10 more results without having to click on a next button or click
page 2 they may have a thought of "Well, I guess I'll take a look
at a few more" which then keeps them in the browsing process. I
think we all have a sense of wanting to get to the finish line. The
infinite scroll bar is similar to dangling a carrot in front of a
mule.

The main cons I'm seeing so far is loosing your place when you hit
the back button, not knowing how to get back to a result that you've
passed by (using traditional pagination you may remember it's on page
12) and not having the affordance in knowing how long the page
potentially is.

I'm thinking a bookmarking/favorite method being used to mark
results that you want to be able to come back to. You could
potentially compare these results if they're similar types of
products.

I also think that having a robust filtering method for search results
can help get people closer to the result without having to browse
through endless pages of results although you'll still have the
users who are in an early exploratory stage and simply want to window
shop.

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26 Oct 2009 - 2:16pm
Brian Mila
2009

This whole idea seems particularly similar to the embedded video players
that are on every web page these days. You click play, the video may or
may not play right away (initial load). Then it starts to play but
continues to buffer more in the background. There is usually a nice
visual indicator of how much buffered content you have, and also an
indication of the size of the entire clip. Why not use that, but
vertically, on the scroll bar? I think people would understand its
meaning easily. You can't jump arbitrarily ahead, but some video
players do let you jump ahead into the content that has already been
buffered.

Brian

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