The Infinite Scroll Debate


Of course, infinite scroll isn’t really infinite.

Infinite scroll became a design practice about a decade ago. It is a web design technique where, as the user scrolls down a page, more content automatically and continuously loads at the bottom, eliminating the user’s need to click to the next page.

In earlier decades, the idea of having a long web page (nowhere near infinite!) was considered poor design. In fact, early web design was based on the design of print, especially, newspapers, which thought of the initial desktop screen view without scrolling as the same as the “above the fold” for a newspaper.

A 2006 study by Jakob Nielsen found that 77% of visitors to a website do not scroll, and therefore only see the portion of the website that is above the fold. Some designers still believe the “fold” is worth considering today, but the move to small screens and mobile design has changed how we define that “fold.”

What are the advantages of the infinite scroll? It allows people a frictionless browsing experience without having to go to a “next page” link, arrow or button. Without a end point or bottom , people tend to keep scrolling. Therefore, this scroll is designed to pull you in.

It is a bit addictive – a rabbit hole and some people warn that it has psychological and even societal effects. The term “addictive technology” is sometimes considered antithetical to “ethical design.”

In 2019, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act which would outlaw social media platforms from using certain practices, including infinite scroll.

Infinite scroll can also make navigation especially difficult for users with disabilities.

One typical design feature – the footer – is diminished, if not eliminated in the infinite scroll design. This area typically contained “About” and “Contact” links and perhaps an entire menu and information that was carried over to the rest of the site. It is a long scroll back up to the top of an infinite page to get to the main menu.

Many users know how to jump back to the top of a long page, but not everyone, and it can be frustrating to a new viewer.

It’s easier to “get lost” on a long page. Long pages also load slower, which is an issue for anyone on a slower connection.

So, should you use infinite scroll? It is a consideration. And a compromise is longer but not infinite pages. I find most designers are not recommending it to clients, but be informed.

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