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I am designing a forum with large discussions, with no specific need to order answers. Do I need to implement pagination or should I maintain one unique page per thread?

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2 Answers 2

In a forum thread, users are likely to want to go to the start, or end of the thread fairly often, as well as possibly a particular point in the thread. That makes forum threads a poor candidate for infinite scrolling, as to get to the beginning (or end depending on how you set up your forum), someone will have to scroll through the entire thread. And some threads can get very long.

By way of example, here is a picture of the pagination on a long forum thread: enter image description here
I'm sure you wouldn't want to scroll through all 1147 pages worth of content, just to get to the end of the thread.

So for forums with time based threads, pagination is the best current solution.


However for forums where the threads are based on some other criteria to order the most important posts first, this doesn't apply. Take this site or Reddit as examples. Here the posts are sorted (in theory at least) by quality, and so there isn't a problem in scrolling down to get to more content. Reddit just shows a 'load more' option when you get further down.

enter image description here


Summary

If you sort posts by time posted, use pagination.
If you sort posts by some metric of quality, use infinite scroll or simple 'show more' pagination.

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1  
+1 I really enjoy reading you. Facebook did a nice move by merging the two approaches in its Timeline, you can scroll AND go directly to a specific date with its mini Timeline on the right corner. –  Gildas Frémont Apr 29 '13 at 15:13
    
+1 thanks and how many posts per page would you suggest? –  Pierre Fremaux Apr 30 '13 at 12:51
    
@PierreFremaux It depends on the forum type and the length that you expect for each post. Most forums use 20 per page, so you can use that as a rough guide. –  JohnGB Apr 30 '13 at 12:57

I suggest to split this into two points:

a) Page loading speed and data traffic b) Information context

Page Loading Speed

From a loading speed of view, it doesn't make sense to load all data. Is the user only interested in the latest response (or the few latest added messages), he has no advantage of having all the data on the site.

Information Context

If the answers to the threads are sorted by date, then the user should be able to jump directly to the latest answers (or sort according to date from latest to earliest). If the answers are not sorted in any specific order (normally they are anyway based on the date they got created), then I would suggest to automatically load the answers (lazy loading) as the user scrolls down. Asking the user to interact explicitly with such a paginator control is from my point of view really annoying.

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