Is Infinite Scrolling a Toy or a Tool?

To Infinity and Beyond…

If unsure what ‘infinite scrolling’ is, head over to Pinterest, Tumblr or Twitter for a quick practical demonstration. All three of these sites have implemented infinite scrolling recently, and for them it seems to be working. But would it work for your site?

Infinite scrolling does what it says. Rather than clicking through multiple pages of information, that same information is presented on a single page through which the user can scroll down endlessly.

What is infinite scrolling useful for?

The examples cited above have one thing in common; they each deal with small, often unconnected, units of information – images, one-line micro-blogs and the like. Easily digestible chunks that can generally be consumed as the user chooses. And for this purpose infinite scrolling appears to work well, as an elegant way of presenting long lists of content that might otherwise make navigation cumbersome.

Even Google has toyed with the idea of using infinite scrolling in its search results pages.

When should you think twice before using it?

There is a ‘but’, though. Just because it’s new and all the cool kids are doing it doesn’t mean you should. If you’ve got lots of casually digestible content then it may be a good idea to implement infinite scrolling in some areas of your site. But there are other instances in which it may impede your overall goals.

If you’ve got a long report or another lengthy chunk of text, it may be better to stick with separate, easily navigable pages with plenty of subheaders. Many people will not read the whole thing in a single sitting, and infinite scrolling makes it hard to ‘pick up where you left off’.

For product catalogues too, infinite scrolling can prove detrimental to the user experience. After reading about an individual product, when they click back to the main list of products users want to resume at the point where they left off, not search up and down for it.

As with many web design features, infinite scrolling can be good or bad, depending on where it’s applied. The trick is to determine whether it will benefit your site’s visitors. If that’s a yes, then think seriously about including it in your next update. But if it’s merely going to make things more confusing and frustrating for your visitors, then avoid.