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So I'm reading some blogs and I get to the bottom of the page when I see a graphic similar to this:

<< Newer Posts          Older Posts >>

This makes sense to me. But then, quite often, I'll see it reversed!

<< Older Posts          Newer Posts>>    

This issue is compounded even further when the labels are changed:

<< Next                 Previous >>

It really, really makes me want to rip my hair out. What is the correct logic when specifying this type of information?

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For webmail I've got used to the next page of older mail being to the right -> –  PhillipW Nov 15 '11 at 19:12
    
If I remember correctly, Tumblr defaulted had an older-right model which I found irritatingly unnatural probably due to the book analogy. –  msanford Nov 15 '11 at 21:05
    
"It really, really makes me want to rip my hair out." LOL! –  its_me Apr 19 '12 at 11:30
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10 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The text should largely depend on the actual content itself. Is it time sensitive, like news, or is it content that will be relevant no matter when it is viewed? If it's time sensitive, it makes sense to use older/newer. If it's not time sensitive, previous/next seems like a better fit.

However, I would argue that adding page numbers would increase the understandability of your pagination because they would give you a starting index that's readily apparent and they would also provide more context for your pagination. Much of the confusion in the above methods results from either not knowing where you are, not knowing where you've been, or both. Page numbers help mitigate that problem, especially if you make it clear which page number the user is currently viewing.

As far as which should come first, older/newer, it depends entirely on your sort order. Again, however, adding page numbers here greatly minimizes the confusion.

What's more, for both usability and SEO purposes, you should provide more than just older/newer or next/previous.

Consider:

Suppose your blog is about business news. Which is most usable?

  1. Newer Business News 1 2 [3] 4 5 Older Business News
  2. Newer Business News | Older Business News
  3. Newer 1 2 [3] 4 5 Older
  4. Newer | Older

Or let's say your blog isn't time sensitive. You instead publish business articles like best practices about marketing, hiring, strategy, etc. Which is most usable?

  1. Previous Business Resources 1 2 [3] 4 5 More Business Resources
  2. Previous Business Resources | More Business Resources
  3. Previous 1 2 [3] 4 5 Next
  4. Previous | Next
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Good insight - I like the idea of an alternative (as both a designer and a user) –  Nic Oct 1 '10 at 19:20
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For L>R languages it should be Previous on the left, Next on the right. You're going 'forward' and 'backward' and this is the direction people read and turn pages.

To quote Luke Wroblewski:

both Previous and Next could be thought of as primary actions and their placement should match the left to right motion associated with paginating a set of information.

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Good point to make it similar to "reading a book"! –  powtac Nov 15 '11 at 17:07
    
Couldn't have said this better my self. –  Andrew Davis Nov 15 '11 at 18:30
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Previous/Next or Older/Newer?

I find Older/Newer to be clearer. On blogs that use Previous/Next without additional indicators, I'm always unsure whether Next means "show me the next thing that was posted" (the next newest set of posts) or "show me the next thing that I haven't read" (the next oldest set of posts). I've seen both in use.

Order

I prefer « Older PostsNewer Posts ». In my language/culture this is consistent with paper journals (the ancestors of blogs), graphs, and timelines. I do actually read the link before I click it (which probably makes me an outlier), so the order isn't as important to me.

What Others are Doing

Seen on Popular Engines

  • WordPress: « Newer PostsOlder Posts »
  • Blogger: Newer PostsHomeOlder Posts
  • TypePad: « Previous | Next »

Current Top 5 of the Technorati Top 100

It looks like some version of « Newer PostsOlder Posts » is the winner in this bunch, for whatever that's worth. I'm not sure I'd actually want to copy some of these sites, but they are popular, so they probably represent what many users are accustomed to.

Amongst the sites listed that use Previous/Next, the convention is that "Next" is equivalent to "Older".

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Two problems with this. First, your initial hypothesis is flat out wrong. Blogs are most definitely not about the time relationship between posts. I don't know where you are getting that from, and it makes absolutely no sense. Posts on blogs are almost NEVER intended to be directly related to each other. –  Charles Boyung Oct 1 '10 at 18:45
    
(splitting to separate the separate thoughts) The second issue is that you appear to be talking about links on the posts themselves. Based on the text of the OP's example links, this is talking about paging on the LIST of posts, not an individual post. The list has a clear order displayed, so next and previous are definitely 100% clear in those situations. –  Charles Boyung Oct 1 '10 at 18:47
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@Charles -- If the time relationship is irrelevant, why does every blog in existence sort posts in reverse chronological order? –  Steve S Oct 1 '10 at 18:55
    
@Charles -- No, I am not talking about links on individual posts. –  Steve S Oct 1 '10 at 18:55
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@ Charles -- I would think that the disagreement in the answers and comments here would be enough to at least suggest that Previous/Next is not 100% clear. –  Steve S Oct 1 '10 at 18:58
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Time is usually represented from left to right on graphs so I'd suggest keeping with that. I.e. 'previous' on left and 'next' on right.

Next and Previous are unclear -- if at all poss labels should be qualified to indicate what they are relating to. Next Page, Next Most Recent or even better, how about Next (Jul 21).

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Agree that Next Page and Previous Page are better than Next and Previous alone. But your time comment is an example why the links specifically should not use "Older" and "Newer" on blogs. –  Charles Boyung Oct 1 '10 at 16:44
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If you are using labels like "Older" and "Newer", then I don't think it really matters much. However, I think that using "Older" and "Newer" is incorrect, and "Next Page" and "Previous Page" are better labels. The reason for this is that most people associate links displayed like this as paging links, and as such, they expect it to work like this:

<< Previous                 Next >>

This is the opposite of your last example.

This follows the paging mechanisms used by searches (both site-level and search engines), so the user experience is well known.

I understand that the default for most blog platforms is to use the "older/newer" paradigm, but that actually leads to confusion. I can't count the number of times when I've clicked the "newer" link and been confused on a blog by seeing the list of posts I had just looked at. Why did I get confused? The "newer" link starts with 'N' and so does "next". I (like most users, I'm sure) are so used to seeing "next" and "previous" that that link starting with 'N' automatically gets associated with the next page of results, even if that's completely wrong.

Back to the order of "newer" and "older", I actually think that for blogs, the example that confuses you:

<< Newer Posts          Older Posts >>

makes more sense, because then at least the link on the right (pointing "forward") is the link to the next set of posts that you haven't already viewed.

UPDATE: Adding some additional information:

Take a look at the default for Wordpress (using their official blog as an example):

http://wordpress.org/news/page/3/

If you scroll all the way to the bottom, you will see Newer/Older displayed just as I lay out here. Now, take a look at the URL: page/3/

What URL would you expect to see when you clicked on "older posts"? page/2/ or page/4? If there's any ambiguity here, then the links are poorly named.

What would you expect to see on page/4/? Would you expect to see older or newer posts? On a blog, you expect to see older posts. Since the number is increasing, then the "Older" link definitely makes the most sense to be on the right, since that's how the paging design pattern works (Don't believe me, look at this site, google, anything you want).

Because people clearly understand that the display of a blog does not follow an oldest to newest pattern (although comments and answers on this page seem to contradict that), and people DEFINITELY understand the paging pattern ("forward" takes you to the next page) it makes more sense to not even display older/newer. Hence the reason that next/previous are a better option. If a user is on the above URL, and they click Next, they definitely would expect to see page/4/ (already resolves the ambiguity issue). And because in general, users DO know that the front page of a blog has the newest posts, they know what they are going to be getting when they click Next from that page.

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I think maybe a more informative label entirely would be beneficial to the end user - perhaps the date range of the last group of postings, or something similar. I think of << as back and >> as forward, but the time relationship is unique in the blog setting. –  Nic Oct 1 '10 at 16:49
    
@melee - The time relationship isn't really all that important on blogs. As a user, I don't really care what date a post was written (in general), especially when I am sitting there and browsing through the list of posts. If I care about the date of a specific post, I can look at the post (either on the list screen or the detail screen). –  Charles Boyung Oct 1 '10 at 16:56
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@Charles -- Isn't the time relationship kind of the point of a blog? If it wasn't, why wouldn't you just post a bunch of essays and sort them alphabetically by title? I may not care about the specific date (unless I want to know how recent the information is...) but I definitely care which posts came first and which ones came later. Previous/Next provides absolutely no useful information, especially since the meanings are reversed on some blogs. Older/Newer at least tells me what direction I'm going. –  Steve S Oct 1 '10 at 18:06
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I find your association between "going forward" and "Older posts" (last couple of paragraphs) very confusing. It only makes sense to me if you are always reading posts in reverse chronological order (in which case older posts are the ones you haven't read yet). I hate reading them in that order, because you lose the train of thought of the writer and I therefore always start with the oldest post I haven't yet read. Going forward to me is then very logically associated with "Next" and "Newer" and the right hand side of the page (for the link). –  Marjan Venema Oct 1 '10 at 18:20
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@Charles: Great, I like not being "normal" (read average). And, well, to me previous and next page actually do have something with the order in which I read the posts... I often skip reading a blog for quite a while and then come back to it. Also losing the train of thought is something that can happen easily with technical blogs where one post often builds on the information provided in an older one. I guess I mostly read technical blogs... –  Marjan Venema Oct 2 '10 at 10:15
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Along the lines of Hisham's answer, another way would be to have a vertical scheme:

^ Newer - Older v

That would maintain some kind of mapping between posting date and the typical "temporal direction" of blogrolls.

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(My bad: I completely missed that it's a blog. See comments)

To me, the first one makes the most sense because it's how you read a book. "Next" or "Newer Posts" would go on the right because, unless it's Hebrew or Arabic, you always turn the page on the right to go to the next page.

Not quite related, but in a talk at the Business of Software conference, Don Norman gives the example of a remote that has up/down arrows. Which button would make the most sense to go to the next or previous channel? The video is worth watching for UI and usability folks.

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The problem with your logic is that blogs are not read like books. You don't read oldest to newest. Blogs have the newest posts first, and when you go to the next page, you are reading older posts, not newer. This is why using "newer" and "older" instead of "next" and "previous" is a less desirable model, because like Julian said in his answer, time is usually represented from left to right. –  Charles Boyung Oct 1 '10 at 16:43
    
So books in right-to-left languages are printed so that the binding is on the right? I was wondering about that. –  Patrick McElhaney Oct 1 '10 at 16:44
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+1 Everyone participating in this question should watch that video. It's enlightening. –  Patrick McElhaney Oct 1 '10 at 16:59
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Good point, Charles. I was thinking more of an eBook or PDF. –  Hisham Oct 1 '10 at 20:04
    
Without having seen the entire video, the fundamental problem here is, that a hyperlinked medium, such as a website with "flat" pages isn't good at representing neither temporal nor spatial relationships between elements on different pages. –  agib Jun 19 '11 at 12:54
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Blog articles being chronologically ordered, it does not seem backward to use 'Older | Newer' instead of 'Previous | Next'. In fact, it's even more appropriate from a semantics angle. So here, it's 'Semantics VS Convention'. Personally, I would dare use 'Older | Newer' as I think it has gained enough acceptance not to miss sleep over possible user confusion.

Regarding the other question: whether to use 'newer | older' or 'older | newer'... Assuming the language is LTR, I'd say it depends how the post age correlates with the reader's interest. The following example may help illustrate my last statement:

Would one open up a blog to relate an event while experiencing this very event, anti-chronological order seems more appropriate - that is, having the home page display the latest article, and the pager being 'Older | Next'. Should this blog be stopped ('archived') at the end of the event, perhaps reversing the order could be an interesting choice.

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To add a physical action / technical note as to why a programmer would not asses the UX but give what the system gives.

Normally the default way data list is returned from the database is with the most relevant or newest record first. To use MySql syntax this would be record number 1 (or [0] in array). So the query will be first 20 results or LIMIT 1,20. To get the "next group of 20" you are effectively going down 20 or two the right.

You are going back in time or less relevant. A western mind and without thinking too much, a user wants the latest story and then goes back in time to look for previous references. This is how we quote past texts in writing as well. It would be hard to think about I have spent time reading but within this source there might be future articles that are better so I will look into the future (well why wasn't I reading that one).

So the next set of the results is page 2 showing 21-40 or LIMIT 2,20 and so you are "paging" right.

Second point is the physical, reinforcement of that. The best place for a link to action is bottom right as we read top left to bottom right so this going back in history to PREVIOUS> or OLDER> is in a good place to hit on the right. If its is on the left which makes sense for the words you are in effect covering the page with your hand to click bottom left and that does not feel comfortable.

The only time I tend to flip this is for label tags on sliders/carousels/rotating lists of things that in effect you always are in the middle of as they go in a circle, so NEXT> makes sense.

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If they are listed down chronologically wouldn't you do something like this?

Title of Post 1 11/10/2011

Title of Post 2 11/08/2011

More Posts >>

I feel even though they are dated older, I'm still moving to the 2nd page of items, or moving through them like I would next through a list of pages, or through older email or something.

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