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I feel like this should be a duplicate but I couldn't find anything. I am trying to reconcile two conflicting observations regarding slideshow-style web sites, or heavily paginated content (which I view as sort of a variant of the same thing):

  • They're used heavily, so there must be a reason. And they're used by a lot of high profile sites so, to me at least, their UI designers have some credibility.
  • They're almost universally frustrating to me.

Example: This Forbes article about the 10 most dangerous power tools.

The frustrations I run into here are pretty representative of my usual experience:

  • Slow load times: It takes approximately 12 seconds for the content of each slide/page to load. With 10 slides that's 120 seconds of total wait time to read all of the content. Here is one slide:

    enter image description here

    Often, it takes longer to load to page than it does to read the text that is on it.

  • Piecewise loading: As the page loads and images, etc. are filled in, at least on Chrome (desktop), the text of the page jumps around on the screen. The consequences are 1) having to wait for the page to load to be able to read the text and 2) disorientation if you interact with e.g. scroll bars while the page is loading.

  • High overhead: To load the entire contents of this article (front page + all slides), and this is with AdBlock enabled:

    enter image description here

    • 2293 total requests
    • 2.8 MB transferred
    • For less than about 900 bytes or so of article text per page (approximately 0.03 to 0.05% of downloaded data was actual text information) + one trivially tiny image per page (example).
  • Comment confusion: While this particular article has comments disabled, on articles like this it is often unclear if comments are per-slide, or shared by the article as a whole. For the latter, you often see users commenting on the particular slide that they are currently viewing, and these comments don't always make sense in the context of other slides.

These points are for the desktop version. On mobile browsers the issues are often magnified.

Other similar examples include:

    -

Counter Example: This Flickr image gallery

So this isn't to say that they're all bad. For example, Flickr seems to use them appropriately and effectively. Compared to the Forbes article:

  • Load times are reasonable.
  • Navigation is easy, the "previous" and "next" buttons don't require scrolling past the end of the content to access.
  • In-place loading solves the "piecewise" page assembly problem with things moving around the page.

Yet there are so many sites with designs like the Forbes example, and there has to be a reason.


Now, compare this to the flat layout of e.g. this BuzzFeed page, which delivers a similar type of content (top N stuff), but on a single page. While load time is heavy, it's still tiny compared to the total load time and overhead of the Forbes article, much easier to read quickly, and aside from the silly topic, a generally pleasant viewing experience.

Another non-slideshow example to compare to is this page, which delivers a "top list" style collection of text content, but effectively does it all on one page rather than as a heavily paginated / slideshow interface.

Trying to come up with some advantages to slideshows, here's what I can think of, none of them are strong:

  • Hypothetically allows a higher ratio of ad content per article: Not great UX but a reasonable marketing decision. But a flat layout (e.g. BuzzFeed) still provides plenty of sidebar space for advertisements, so I'm not sure about this.
  • Some sense of semantic appropriateness? E.g. "it's a list of 10 things, so separate slides/pages reflect this".
  • Theoretically I could imagine this interface was initially attractive because it allows small parts of the page to load instead of having to wait for the whole thing. But, as commonly implemented now, this purpose has been solidly defeated.

I can't think of anything compelling.


So my questions are:

  1. What was the initial drive behind slideshow style web UIs? And if the initial motivations are no longer applicable, why do they continue to be in use?
  2. When is it appropriate to use a slideshow? Text-centric content does not seem to be a good case, although it is heavily used. How can I answer "Should I use a slideshow?" and what's the key set of differences, for example, between the frustrating Forbes layout and the smoother Flickr layout?
  3. Assuming a slideshow must be used, how can it be implemented effectively without having the load time / overhead / confusion issues identified above?

It seems to me that the common issues are poor implementation / inappropriate use, not the slideshow / paginated concept itself.

  • As an aside, I found what I see as a subtly problematic article about pagination. The red flag I see is that it looks like it starts off talking about organizing information, but then goes on to only focus on the pagination controls themselves. The bullet list of "good practices" conspicuously leaves out things like load times, overhead, when it is/isn't actually appropriate. To me this indicates something wrong with the fundamental thought process here although I can't put my finger on it. – Jason C Sep 11 '16 at 16:10
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    Forbes example is just fishing for page views. Ads are paid per impression (see support.google.com/adsense/answer/18196?hl=en) so each page load counts as a new impression. – Bowen Sep 11 '16 at 18:08
  • @Bowen That makes sense, but... not all of Forbes articles are in that format. Wouldn't they want to fish for page views on all of their articles, then? Here's a non-Forbes example of this point: Cinema Blend puts a "top list" style article in this format, with the same problems. If page views were the primary goal, though, then why wouldn't they also paginate their other articles? That is, their choices seem driven by content type rather than a consistent motivation for page views, so it appears to be at least partly a UX decision. – Jason C Sep 11 '16 at 19:20
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I can't speak to Forbes and that article, but most sites that present information in this format are trying to maximize their page views, their ad impressions, the possibility of/opportunity for incoming links (which improve search results... more possible pages/content to link to, more opportunities), and the sheer amount of monetizable OTHER content they can cram onto each of those pages. I suspect that these types of sites also stack the loading of the page information so that the ads load FIRST, before the content, making the pages load slowly due to both the amount of content and the fact that the content you WANT comes last.

IMHO, this is horrible user experience and is not at all in the service of the user... but it may be the price we pay for "free" content.

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