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Recently I've noticed a new trend in user interfaces. Facebook and Twitter do this, and I've come across it on other random, less famous sites. However, to keep things simple, I'll just use Facebook as an example.

When you first log into Facebook, you are presented with a "News Feed" that has a certain amount of posts from your friends. The feed extends down past the bottom of the viewport.

Then, when you scroll down, to see the feeds "below the fold", at some point as you move downward, it loads in more items. Apparently, this is called "infinite scrolling".

On my computer, this often causes my position in the feed to jump while I'm in the action of scrolling, which is really annoying.

What's particularly egregious about this UI concept is that there is footer information at the bottom of the page. I advertise on Facebook, and use the link at the bottom of the page to get to the advertisement management interface.

Because of this incremental load feature I'm describing, I often scroll down to the bottom to get to the link I want, when I reach the bottom of the page, it will suddenly load in new data, pushing the footer down again, and I have to scroll down again.

This whole thing seems completely pointless to me. What's the upside? A Facebook page is near a megabyte of data, so saving the few extra kilobytes of feed data for when the user scrolls down is just not worth it.

What's wrong with a link that just says "show more"?

Since this additional data retrieval thing seems to happen as soon as I start scrolling even a little anyway, why not just load that data in the first place?

To me this minor annoyance reeks of some engineers concept of a "neat trick" that does not have any actual appreciable upside.

Or am I wrong about that? Is there an advantage that I'm not seeing? Am I the only one who thinks it's stupid? Do some people like it?

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I'd recommend editing your question to make it less focused on one's opinion of this UI pattern and more focused on the research/best practices in this arena. –  Daniel Newman Sep 29 '11 at 4:26
    
@DanielNewman: I hope no one is offended by my phrasing, and I am open to more specific suggestions on how to make the question more about best practices. However, my intention was just to give a more personal and less technical description simply for approachability. –  Dave M G Sep 29 '11 at 5:16
    
clmnt.com has a nice solution to the footer problem. –  Emil Oct 1 '11 at 3:53
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The problem here is the incomparable design elements of the "footer" and an unending page. There's absolutely no problem with having an unending page as many websites have data that fits this presentation method, the problem is people are tacking footers to pages with no foot. –  Ben Brocka Oct 1 '11 at 14:54
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6 Answers

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The accepted UX terminology for this pattern is "infinite scrolling". It's becoming more and more common in rich web apps because it's a way to keep users engaged with a minimum number of roadblocks.

The accepted viewpoint is that users prefer single page versions of content when given the choice (Google's own research backs this up), but that it's impractical to load hundreds of items on an initial request (especially for a media-rich site like Facebook).

What's the problem with pagination? To quote UI-Patterns:

The problem with using pagination for browsing between subsets of data is that the user is pulled from the world of content to the world of navigation, as the user is required to click to the next page. The user is then no longer thinking about what they are reading, but about how to get more to read. This breaks the user’s train of thought and forces them to stop reading. Using pagination creates a natural pause that lets the user reevaluate if he or she wants to keep going on or leave the site, which they a lot of the time do.

Infinite scrolling is not right for all applications, though. The scrollbar continuity is a problem, as you identified, but there are other issues as well. Some of these can be addressed by adhering to a number of best practices, very well outlined by UX Movement.

Difficulty in bookmarking, and inability to jump to a specific result are other issues. That's why it's important that infinite scrolling only be used in data-rich applications, where the results displayed are highly dynamic (and will necessarily change from day-to-day, so bookmarking isn't expected to return specific content), and unpredictable (so the user would have no reason to "jump to page 7", since there's no way of knowing what's on page 7).

Overall, infinite scrolling can be a powerful tool, but only if implemented properly in the proper context.

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+1 for educating me on the term "infinite scrolling". I am still a little skeptical, though, on this percieved problem of users being slightly derailed by pagination. I do not have any exeprience of anyone ever complaining "Oh no! I have to navigate to another page!" –  Dave M G Sep 29 '11 at 5:19
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"Pagination createa a natural pause ..." The perceived "problem" from the quote is more a problem for the site owner (user leaving) than the user. In fact, pagination is exactly what I want and like as a user. It gives me the choice of whether I want to spend the time retrieving more data or not. With infinite scrolling that choice and thus my control over what I am doing is taken away from me. –  Marjan Venema Sep 29 '11 at 6:10
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@MarjanVenema: I agree completely. I have never navigated away from content I was interested in because of pagination. It seems to me that "infinite scrolling" is solving the wrong problem. –  Dave M G Sep 29 '11 at 8:10
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@DaveMG: well, I've never been afraid of using a program just because it used the CLI. The problem with anecdotes is that we're never the average user. –  André Paramés Sep 29 '11 at 11:07
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Okay, I can agree that infinite scrolling is not inherently bad, just that a lot of sites, like Facebook implement it very poorly. My biggest grudge against Facebook and similar implementations is that the loading of new content is unpredictable to a degree, so that as I scroll down, the content tends to jump and relocate my scroll bar, so I lose my position. This happens frequently as I scroll up and down, making scrolling a chore. That, and the obviously faulty footer issue. –  Dave M G Oct 13 '11 at 2:51
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Another term I have heard used to describe this is "bottomless paging". I like this feature in Google Reader. Although, adding footers to a page designed to scroll infinitely is a bad idea.

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In addition to the comments on Facebook's poor implementation, there is an "Edit Options" link in the same box as "Show More" that allows you to change who is showing up there. Just yesterday I wanted to see that setting, so I hit "Show More" about 5 or 6 times until it stopped auto-loading because I knew that would be faster than trying to navigate the maze that is Facebook's user settings.

I disagree that there's only a small % of people that need the footer, especially on a site as complex as Facebook. Look at all the options there are down there (links italicized):

Facebook © 2011 · English (US)

About · Advertising · Create a Page · Developers · Careers · Privacy · Terms · Help

Those are pretty important in and of themselves, especially for the thousands of devs/social media managers, but I particularly enjoy large informational footers on sites who have sitemaps the size of who knows what. They should be utilizing that space to keep people engaged by showing them all of the possibilities, or at least positioning it to the bottom of the page and allowing the user to click it to push the feed up. Just my two cents.

Meanwhile, on content aggregators (specifically media rich ones), this feature works wonderfully, especially in situations where the site is using something like jQuery Masonry. I can gather some examples of sites using infinite scrolling the right way, if you'd like.

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Infinite scrolling to me fits the user's model much better than pagination. I've always viewed pagination as a performance enhancement because loading all the data upfront is prohibitively and/or unnecessarily expensive.

The fact that you have to click something to view more results is somewhat of a nuisance because it breaks the flow of what you're doing. You have to make the (albeit minor) cognitive and physical switch between rolling the scroll wheel and actually positioning the mouse over a button and clicking it.

In terms of information consumed per minute, not having to click to load more (and brief delay before the information actually gets loaded) infinite scrolling works better in that regard.

Now you do make a very valid point about the footer being next to useless with infinite scrolling and I agree 100% (what's the point in putting useful information at the bottom of a bottomless pit?). My guess would be that the % people who actually need to get to the footer was too small to let that deter them, and also those people are generally more likely to put up with the inconvenience than the general population (note, putting up with, not liking)

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As an alternative to using the "Load More" pattern if you have a footer is to use a floating footer, which you can see in action at http://www.whistleout.com.au/ and also http://www.bankwest.com.au/ The latter even has the footer contain utilities and expands as needed or commanded.

Floating footer at bankwest.com.au

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Floating footers and headers are often done wrong ("interactively positioned") and are then a terrible distraction to my eyes (migraine sufferers are often very sensitive to unexpected/unwarrented movement). Only if the header/footer looks fixed in place within the browser window and doesn't seem to move a pixel no matter how fast I scroll, do I find them usable. GMail now fixes the buttons at the top of the page when you scroll down a message. They move, but only until they are stuck to the bookmark/navigation bar. That's a pretty good compromise. –  Marjan Venema Sep 29 '11 at 6:17
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One annoying thing they have - and the headers on StackExchange websites are no exception - is that they break scrolling readability. When I'm reading something, I often use space to skip a full viewport height, but on sites with these footers/headers the first line(s) of the new content is covered, forcing me to scroll up manually to read it. –  André Paramés Sep 29 '11 at 11:05
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Yes, in Facebook's case I do think this feature is very stupid for exactly the reason you state. There is a footer underneath the feed with a few important links. I too have advertised on Facebook and have run into this exact problem. I scroll down, and the footer gets pushed down further.

Just as you said, I think the better solution would be to take a lesson from Google Image Search and have a button that says "Show more". This could still be an AJAX thing, where the information is loaded without having to reload the page. But I think it'd be more natural.

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I think one thing that would be undeniable is that if, as the technical term suggests, the intention of "infinite scrolling" is to approach being "infinite", then this in combination with a footer is inexcusable. –  Dave M G Sep 29 '11 at 5:21
    
Why they decided to use a non-floating footer with any more content than "load more" is beyond me. –  Ben Brocka Sep 29 '11 at 20:09
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