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It's not exactly new, but you probably encountered far more sites with infinite scrolling functionality in 2012 than you did in 2011, and there's a good chance you'll come across even more in 2013.

With popular services like Twitter and Pinterest bringing infinite scrolling into the mainstream, it's no surprise that more and more designers and publishers are considering doing away with old school pagination.

But is infinite scrolling a good trend or will it soon become a design worst practice?

Infinite scrolling: the pros

Fans of infinite scrolling believe that it can provide for a better user experience. Reasons for this include:

Faster browsing

Clicking from page-to-page through a paginated experience is typically a time-consuming process that, while pragmatic, rarely seems like an efficient or satisfying way to browse content. The infinite scrolling experience, on the other hand, can be incredibly efficient and, when implemented well, provides for a more enjoyable experience.

Made for touch

Infinite scrolling has become more popular as smart phone and tablet ownership has surged, and the infinite scrolling experience is one that can be found in numerous mobile apps. With our increasingly touch-centric world influencing interfaces, it's only natural that something like this would find its way into the general web design toolkit.

Potentially greater content exposure

Pagination often discourages users from perusing large volumes of content. Google is one of the best examples of this: most of us rarely go beyond the first or second page of Google search results. Infinite scrolling, however, changes the game and in some cases, results in the user seeing more content than she would have in a paginated experience.

Infinite scrolling: the cons

Infinite scrolling isn't without its drawbacks, however.

More JavaScript

JavaScript is great, but too much of a great thing can be a bad thing. With more and more sites relying heavily on JavaScript, performance is a huge concern, and infinite scrolling can certainly be a big performance liability.

Additionally, while some of the most popular infinite scrolling JavaScript libraries implement the functionality as a progressive enhancement, leaving traditional pagination in place for users without JavaScript, designers and publishers must recognize that as more and more JavaScript-based functionality becomes a part of the intended user experience, it often becomes more difficult to maintain a good non-JavaScript experience.

Navigation complexities

Infinite scrolling often introduces numerous navigation issues. Although bookmarking a paginated search results page is inherently a risky proposition for users, the option to do so is basically taken off the table altogether with infinite scrolling.

Far more worrisome: navigating back to an infinite scrolling page is typically a nightmare (most of the time the user must start from scratch) and because many infinite scrolling implementations fail to indicate to the user just how much content there is, the overall experience can be as disorienting as it is smooth.

SEO

One of the biggest questions asked about infinite scrolling has to do with SEO. Google is capable of indexing content rendered through AJAX, and infinite scrolling implemented as a progressive enhancement should alleviate SEO concerns, but if you overlook these details, it could spell SEO trouble.

Conclusion

So is infinite scrolling the best thing since sliced bread, or the worst thing since Flash? That depends. While the successful use of this functionality on high-profile services like Twitter and Pinterest suggests that the infinite scrolling trend will continue, it's important to recognize that it hasn't worked everywhere.

See below for Etsy engineer Dan McKinley's slides on “Design for Continuous Experimentation”...

 

At the end of the day, any design trend considered worth exploring should be explored in the context of a website's purpose, and the needs, desires and expectations of its users.

And when the use of JavaScript is implicated, performance and navigation should never be ignored.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 January, 2013 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2405 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

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Monique Bowen

From a users perspective, I personally like infinite scrolling for sites that have a lot of images. For example, I look at a lot of photography blogs on Tumblr. The ones I come back to the most usually have infinite scrolling. It's much easier to scan through everything with infinite scrolling.

On the other hand, I've been to a few text heavy blogs that had infinite scrolling and I hated it.

I think the trend will continue, but moreso for image related sites.

over 3 years ago

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Jody

I enjoyed the article but had an issue with Google's ability to handle AJAX. The link provided in the article is talking about a navigational solution to making sure there are unique URLs for AJAX rendered pages through the Hashbang. This doesn't necessarily translate over to an infinite scroll since the content doesn't "change," just adds to. SEO with infinite scroll is hidden to the search engines because the action to see new items is scrolling, not clicking. Interested to see if there is a connection that I missed.

over 3 years ago

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Ron Rodney

Surely it all comes down to the quality of the content.

If the content is bad infinite scrolling won't help, people will stop reading/viewing.

And if the content is good people won't mind clicking another page.

Concentrate on producing good content and the design won't matter.

over 3 years ago

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Mark Alan Effinger

Interesting that Continuous Scrolling still harbors some SEO issues. I'd have thought those were long gone by now.

The Touch opportunity and organic content discovery are two reasons it rocks. Done right, load times are faster as well.

The one issue is to ensure the navigation is anchored to the top of the browser frame. Getting around should not require massive scrolling to get back to Home.

over 3 years ago

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Kayden Kelly, CEO at Blast Advanced Media

Take smaller, faster steps...great validation of this approach. Plus, it was nice to hear how infinite scrolling doesn't perform well since I am not a fan of most implementations.

over 3 years ago

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tai nghe bluetooth

Công ty chúng tôi đứng đầu trong việc cung cấp sản phẩm tai nghe bluetooth các loại, sản phẩm tai nghe bluetooth chính hãng, giá rẻ, nhiều kiểu dáng phong phú cho bạn lựa chọn. Chúng tôi được công nhận là đại lý chính thức của các hãng sản phẩm tai nghe bluetooth với các nhà cung cấp tai nghe hàng đầu thế giới: Nokia, Samsung, Apple, Sony Ericsson…

over 3 years ago

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Barry Rutter, Digital Marketing Manager at Reed Exhibitions

The major Con is search and find-ability. Therefore it depends on the content. If the content is for example an answer to a question i.e How do I create a fire policy? Burying in an infinite scrolling page on health and safety is poor usability. If you are looking at products or images for example it is a very useful tool

over 3 years ago

Bethany Jarroussie

Bethany Jarroussie, E-Business and User Experience Consultant at Nixon UX

Infinite scrolling can be a *very* bad thing on ecommerce sites, take http://www.cocosa.com/ as an example. This site uses infinite scrolling on it's product listing pages.

Most people will look at a list of products, click through to see more information, then navigate back to the product list to carry on browsing. With an infinite scrolling page this common behaviour becomes incredibly frustrating, especially on a tablet or smartphone.

I'd say it is best used in a context where there is an infinite (or very large) number of items and the user is not expected to go through them all, a twitter feed for example. Anywhere the user may click back and forth or wish to see every item in a list should use traditional pagination, in my opinion.

over 3 years ago

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James

Just a grammatical correction: "peruse" means "to read thoroughly." I think you mean to say, "Pagination often discourages users from SCANNING large volumes of content." Since people rarely peruse on the internet.

over 3 years ago

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Bob

@James It can also mean to:

"to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner"

and cursory means:

"rapidly and often superficially performed or produced"

SO--

Your so called "grammatical correction" is unnecessary.

over 3 years ago

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