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Tim Strehle’s links and thoughts on Web apps, managing software development and Digital Asset Management, since 2002.

Simpler DAM UI: Infinite scrolling?

Searching, and browsing result pages, is at the core of Digital Asset Management systems. Our current software uses pagination when presenting results, i.e. you start at “page 1” and click through a set of numbered pages. That’s what Google and Bing Web search, eBay, Amazon and many more are doing.

“Infinite scrolling” is the shiny new alternative: You stay on a single result page – an inifinite stream that automatically (or sometimes, manually) loads more items as you scroll down to the bottom. See Google image search, Facebook or Twitter.

Which approach are we going to use when building our simpler DAM UI?

Make sure to read Anthony T’s in-depth discussion Avoid the Pains of Pagination: “It’s important to have [pagination] on your site to prevent your pages from becoming too long and overwhelming. […] Users have better experiences with scrolling than clicking. The mouse wheels, touchpads and touchscreens of today make scrolling faster and easier than clicking. […] Infinite scrolling can frustrate users. When the user clicks to go back, they’ll lose their place and progress in the content stream and will have to scroll from the top of the page again.”

Tony Russell-Rose writes in Designing Search (part 6): Interacting with results: “While infinite scroll offers a more seamless experience (minimizing disruptive page reloads), and forms a natural expression of the fluid interactivity of smartphones and tablet displays, it does have a number of drawbacks. First, it is much harder for the user to determine precisely where they are in the result set or to navigate to a particular section. Second, it is no longer possible to bookmark an individual page of results.”

(See also the technical details of how LinkedIn for iPad and Discourse implemented their infinite scrolling. I recently built a very primitive form; click “Weitere Treffer anzeigen” at the bottom of filmothek.bundesarchiv.de…)

In the long term, it’s about making things simple for users. We don’t really know yet what works best for them. (We’ve been asked a few times to switch to infinite scrolling, but usually by techies, not “end users”.) My working hypothesis is that they’re most likely to be familiar with Google and Amazon pagination. Also, it’s not unusual to hear them refer to a page number (“that image on the second page”) or see them browse through thousands of results (which doesn’t work too well with infinite scrolling).

But in the short term, we must also make features simple to develop. Overcomplicating things keeps us from releasing our software, and from getting feedback from our customers. That’s why we’ll probably skip infinite scrolling for now: Pagination is a whole lot easier to implement and much less fragile and error prone. 

What’s your opinion on pagination versus infinite scrolling?

Update: Hoa Loranger writes for the Nielsen Norman Group in Infinite Scrolling Is Not for Every Website: “Long, endless pages are good for time-killing activities because users are in the mindset for serendipitous exploration and discovery. […] It’s much easier for people to remember that the item is on page 3 than it is to gauge where the item is positioned on an extremely long page. […] With pagination […] there is a happy sense of completion when a page is reviewed. […] The choices on smaller pages are easier to evaluate because fewer options feel less overwhelming.”

Update: Christian Holst, in Infinite Scrolling, Pagination Or “Load More” Buttons? Usability Findings In eCommerce, recommends the “Load More” button. Interesting.

Update (2017-04-19): Nick Babich – UX: Infinite Scrolling vs. Pagination: “There are only a few instances where infinite scrolling is effective. It’s best suited for sites and apps that boast user-generated content (Twitter, Facebook) or visual content (Pinterest, Instagram). Pagination, on the other hand, is a safe option, and good solution for sites and apps that intend to satisfy the goal-oriented activities of the users.”

Mon, 20 Jan 2014 09:20:32 +0000