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Why Infinite-Scrolling in Mobile Apps is Destroying Content Consumption (thisiselevator.com)
119 points by kanebennett 1352 days ago | hide | past | web | 76 comments | favorite

> After spending hours scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Flipboard our mind feels tired. We feel intellectually bloated, and yet completely unsatisfied. Why? Because there is more out there. What if I’m missing out on something? What if there is some critical piece of knowledge just three flicks of my finger upwards?

The author seems to be essentially describing an addiction, and suggesting that the compulsions can be ameliorated by placing arbitrary divisions in the consumption stream. I have to admit, it would be interesting to see if there's a difference in consumption behavior between infinite scroll schemes and manual "Next Page" navigation... maybe this has already been studied?

It would probably be overkill to force this on users ("sorry, we're taking away infinite scroll because some of you couldn't control yourselves") but I can see it being potentially useful as an option in apps, available for those who find themselves in need of structure.

Anyway, I'm not entirely convinced it would solve addiction... after all, cigarettes come in discrete units, and we all know how that turned out.

From experience, I can confirm that there is a pretty massive subjective difference between scrolling through a book vs. reading it in page size chunks. When I scroll through something, especially if it is dense, I tend to be continually moving the page so that I keep the sentence I am reading in the middle of the screen. Since I often scan up and down around a point in the text to gain context and solidify the meaning this has led to less retention of knowledge when I scroll through as opposed to page through. There is probably more to it as well though, because I definitely feel that bloated feeling mentioned. What's more, I feel it even during short chapters, when the same amount of text read in paged form would not give me any trouble.

Not sure if this is replicated by others, but this may reveal something fundamental about how I interpret information in printed form.

I think you're not the only one. I feel sort of a sense of anxiety in that I have to keep scrolling while reading if I'm reading a book without discrete pages (infinite scrolling also becomes a distraction from the content). If the layout is reformatted as pages, I know when a page begins and ends and don't have that feeling any longer.

I'd never willingly implement or recommend infinite scrolling on a website or mobile app. If a client wants it, I would dissuade them at first with reasons against it, but if they insisted I would implement it reluctantly with a fallback to pagination.

Yes! There is this headlong sense of just rushing through the text - a sensation of speed and "flow" that doesn't really impart any understanding.

Yep. I understand where the logic comes from to implement them (don't have to click to see more content), but I think it comes at a cost.

It also helps that my browser implements a "fast forward" mechanism, where I can go to the next page in pagination without actually clicking a link. Just have to do a mouse gesture or click the arrow buttons on the mouse. If it were something more commonly used (unlikely to happen sadly) it would make browsing paginated content so much easier.

I tend to keep the line I'm reading at the top of the page. It's annoying if I want to reread something because I missed comprehension, but it makes me faster than needing to figure out where the next line begins while performing a visual carriage return and line feed.

Personally, I love infinite scrolling when I'm consuming content. The problem I face is when it is online content and I've followed a link. This isn't a problem for websites I view in a computer, because I usually just open a new tab and when I close it, I'm right back where I left off. If the site or application stopped after only 20 items, perhaps it was that 21st item I would have really been interested in reading.

For the past several years I've mostly switched to devices like my phone and tablets. Applications don't often feature the same approach and can't as easily return to the view I was looking at. This really limits the usefulness of infinite scrolling. If the application unloaded in the background, when I return to it, the view has reset itself at the top of the list. If I'm a hundred "pages" into the stream, I need to start over with new content that has arrived since I started reading, scroll for a few minutes until I start to recognize content that was close to where I left off, and then actually find where I went off on a tangent.

One solution to fix this problem would be a user enabled filter that hides content that I've scrolled past and only shows "fresh" content. Pagination usually solves this problem for you by having a view that includes where you are in the list. Of course that is invalidated when the whole stream is reset, but if only 10 new items have been added, it wouldn't take that long to resume where I left off.

Finally, sites that weight the ranking, like Reddit or Hacker News, cause both systems to foul up. Since the content resorts it is practically impossible to determine "where you left off." Implementing a mechanism to hide headlines for posts I've already scrolled past, would go a long way to resolving this last problem. In a best case scenario, I'd be more productive. In a worst case scenario, I'd be no better off than I am today, but it is difficult to think of situations where this design wouldn't be beneficial to the end user.

It won't help everyone overcome their addiction, but some people just need a tiny bit of friction to stop reading. The brief moment where you need to click "Next" instead of scrolling can be enough for you to realize you've had enough. I especially like HN's design, where not only is there pagination but the "next" link doesn't take you to the next page it only gives you a page that says "link expired". if you really, really want to keep procrastinate you need to refresh.

> You reach the end of the feed, and a loading animation appears. More news loads. More pictures appear. You scroll again. The loading animation appears. More content loads. You continue scrolling

Then your mobile browser starts to lag and fucking crashes because it exhausted memory. Not to mention breaking the back button and the footer-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow issue. This thing has to die.

btw, Medium breaks text selection on mobile safari :/

that site isn't actually Medium. Just a look-alike

What I hate the most is when I'm using a scrollbar and the infinite scroll adds more content to the bottom of the page and suddenly the scrollbar jerks up because I'm now 30% down the page instead of 15% down the page--then it takes me a minute to find where I was before the infinite scroll event. Happens to me ALL THE TIME. F-ing annoying. A "load more" button with some kind of ---------next page--------- line to delineate the new content would be preferable. The solution is to use the "Page Down" key but that's not always intuitive.

Oh yeah, this happens to me on Flickr all the time, when holding the scrollbar (talking desktop browsing here).

Also when infinite scroll is used on finite data. I have to spend 5 minuets awkwardly scrolling through pages to get to the end of a data set (I'm looking at you Soundcloud).

With pagination this is literally 1 click!

Before infinite scrolling, there was pagination, which also does not stop the user from digesting an entire database of content. Some infinity scrolling even requires a click; so, on those sites, it's the same amount of clicks to see more content as it is/was with pagination. I dont see infinite-scrolling being the cause of the problem.

I would suggest sites without filtering is the problem.

To get content that is a fixed length and consumable without overindulging, there needs to be a fixed amount of content that 1 person can digest. Otherwise, you just have this database/collection of content that 1 person cant quite possibly read in one sitting... regardless of if there is infinity scrolling, pagination, or some other way to navigate.

Newspapers, in a way, curate what they are going to display each day. It's like a filter in a way. All the content is filtered to show what can fit in X amount of pages.

Websites with this problem, if they want to solve the problem, need better filtering. That might not be the only solution, but i feel like it's a major contender in helping combat the problem of trying to figure out what to consume amongst limitless content consumption.

Ugh, also I hate infinite scrolling when it crashes and makes me reload the page. Like on Facebook I would scroll down and down up to posts from months ago, then it would crash on me, or I accidentally click on some link, which brings me back all the way to the top when I try to get back on it.

I disagree with this premise, that we necessarily need that "end" state in content consumption. As many things in the real world have an end state as (effectively) don't. I can finish a game of Risk, but I will never finish building relationships with my friends. I can finish a pile of tacos, but I will never finish seeking an understanding of my existence. I can finish re-watching all Star Trek series, but I cannot finish learning about the opinions and ideas of others.

Some activities just go on forever. We learn that certain activities have an end and others don't. The ones that don't we give attention to in a manner proportionate to their importance. In representing content streams as infinite, publishers are simply mimicking the interminable reality of that activity. Future generations will never have learned that there's a daily endpoint to what you can know about your friend's lives, current events, etc. What a silly proposition!

I (wildly) speculate the feeling that an end state is needed springs from weakness/inability in moderating one's impulses. The end state then is really just a crutch to force one to stop some obsessive activity.

[Edit: removed disparagement of Star Trek DS9.]

Yeah, this was more or less my reaction to this article too. Much before infinite scrolling in apps, there were libraries so overwhelming in sheer volume of content that lead Borges to conceive the universe in the form of "The Library of Babel".

Simply putting a stop to scrolling will not end the feeling of unsatisfaction, it will not end the fear of missing out. Infinite scrolling is the consequence, not the cause of our dissatisfaction.

Down-voter, can you articulate your objection?

The author postulates that infinite content scrolling in mobile apps causes "dissatisfaction" and "intellectual bloat" for the user, and concludes that developers should limit content.

An alternative explanation might focus on when and how discipline and self-restraint should be exercised, the ways in which content can be curated, or how and why one might take steps to learn about such things.

As developer we tend to think it's "never the fault of the user". We have to design around human proclivities or else we would be neurologists or something. I agree with the article that this is a problem that could be solved and should be solved.

Unfortunately I think the easiest answer is gamification, sure to create much gnashing of teeth.

I think there are some UX issues with infinite scroll, and probably some cognitive benefit to giving users a predictable end to use of a product, but I don't think many people ever completed a newspaper every day. To me, a daily copy of the Times is just as infinite as my Twitter feed.

I disagree. While nobody may read every single article in a paper, we can comfortably scan all of it and decide which ones are worth reading. That is what the author is referring to, not the act of literally reading everything in your infinite TL...which is what you allude to by saying "I don't think many people ever completed a newspaper every day."

I'll be honest, I've never been a newspaper guy, but do people really go through them front to back or just scan the front page and jump to the section (sports, movie show times, etc.) they're specifically interested in?

For me and my wife (before our son was born, of course!) we usually read about 50% of the daily newspaper (Publico) and just about 100% of the weekly one (Expresso).

We usually would take the newspaper to the beach or a cafe, spend a few hours there just reading the paper (trading sections every so often) and chatting a bit about what we were reading. It was as nice ritual.

I imagine it's like any large new source of entertainment/knowledge. At first, you'll not quite know what is interesting and worthwhile and what isn't, and will use guides to help you find what to read, and your forays into exploring further will meet with mixed success, as you waste time on things that in retrospect weren't worth it. As you become more accustomed to to the resource, you'll eventually be able to get a good idea of whether you'll like something from the section, headline, and if it gets that far, lead. At this point, since you might be scanning the whole document before you are done, jumping to sections because of main page leads isn't worth it, you'll get there eventually anyway.

If you're logged out it seems to behave this way, e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/news2

I don't like infinite scrolling either because there is seemingly no end, and no "landmarks" like page numbers that you can refer to to see how far you've gone.

They do not need to be mutually exclusive. A mobile app I maintain, for instance, appends each page as you scroll, but it also displays the page number of the content you are seeing and allows you to jump to specific pages.

Exactly. Additionally, it's very easy to implement a single-page-app-esque page button that simply hides one page to make room for another, then allows you to return to that page without loading any more data. Considering how rediculously easy that would be, I'd personally build it in as an option. I do realize though that it's trendy these days to simply omit all options and preferences in favor of keeping it simple.

I recently came across another issue with infinite scrolling, no access to a websites footer. I found myself annoyed by the issue when was trying to get the RSS feed from some websites which infinite scrolling on their blog posts. The infinite loading of the site actively prevented me from ever seeing the footer, which is where the RSS feed URL was, so I could not subscribe on my mobile (I knew it was in the footer as I could see it on desktop layout). Coupled with the equally annoying no-zoom meta tag I had no easy way to get the URL. Absolutely braindead.

What the OP is saying is that Twitter, Facebook, etc. have turned into soap operas.

Nothing wrong with a "never ending story" and there's a considerable clientele for that in older media too. The LoTR trilogies also have that similar feeling for me - I'm left with a bit of a craving after watching just one.

What is, perhaps, new is the immediacy of the never-endingness. One phone-screenful is all you get at a time.

There are several ways of viewing information, and it would be better if users actually had the choice. This is common in desktop apps like Itunes, or even a file manager where you are given gallery, detail view, scrolling, thumbnails etc.

"A finite list of news. An Instagram feed that can be finished. A Twitter feed that ends."

Isn't this confusing source and outcome? Even if your app (or website) adds an 'end' point, it would only be artificial. The news never ends. Instagram and Twitter never sleep. If you can't be your own gatekeeper (eg, by following a very small number of users on Twitter) then I doubt an artificial 'end' point from another gatekeeper will help you. Rather, I suspect, you'll simply add more apps to your daily reading list - an infinite number of finite apps to keep the infinite consumption option available.

The author got it backwards. Infinite scrolling of HISTORY is not a problem. Twitter feeds end at the TOP, not the bottom. You scroll down endlessly because you are bored.

the best is when you cannot get to to footer anymore because of infinite scrolling...that includes FB too...

The column to the right of your feed (where birthdays and events show up) also includes the same links as the footer. Click "More" to get to the Developers page, etc.

This is the worst. You either have to train your hand-eye coordination to be similar to an Olympic athlete or memorize URLs that only the dev team of certain sites should have burned into their brains

Holy fud, tell me about it. I forgot which site is it, but they put their contact/blog/about links at the end of the page...you know how that turned out.

"There is no reason why Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can’t algorithmically determine which, say 20 posts are important to us, and give the option to only view those."

What could possibly go wrong?

Facebook actually does that right now via EdgeRank. (unlike Twitter and Instagram which is strict chronological)

The results are not good.

I find it doesn't really do this on the mobile site.

Content limited digests are actually very popular. http://sidebar.io/2014/1/4 is one example but there are many many. It would be interesting to see how competitive they would be against the big mobile apps but at the very least it's an existing, confirmed, niche.

Many of the complaints here can be solved via a good implementation of infinite scrolling.

The URL should auto-update to reflect the current state of the content that has been loaded onto the page (the only exceptions are when the content is highly dynamic and pagination becomes somewhat meaningless over even short time intervals).

Either manual invocation of the scrolling should be necessary (so access to the site footer is not restricted) or else the site footer should be re-designed so it is still accessible (Twitter, for instance, just puts an information box on the left with links that would normally be in the footer).

It is also very important that clicking on a link on the page and then going back should restore the full state of the page, including scrolling position, at least to the greatest extent possible.

Ideally a visual separator should be inserted between different pages of content. This helps the user maintain context of where they are in the content stream.

Or, it could just be different pages of content and the back button actually works in every instance and the scrolling position is automatically (and accurately) preserved by the browser. As opposed to infinite scroll with updating URLs that inserts 10 different items in your browser history, breaking proper back button functionality to fit the view of what a designer thinks are all the pages you visited while you, as a user, just scrolled a single page and think the back button should take you back to the site you just came from.

You're describing poor implementations of infinite scrolling. Like I mentioned, in most cases it's possible to avoid all the issues you just described. Whether this is done or not depends really on how much effort the programmer wants to put into it. Also, just to be clear, this:

> As opposed to infinite scroll with updating URLs that inserts 10 different items in your browser history

is avoided with correct usage of the HTML5 history API. You can update the URL without inserting a bunch of extra pages into the browser's history.

I don't think I've ever seen an infinite scroll website implemented correctly. Nor have I ever seen one that works well on my phone. Which is probably why I generally never go back to infinite scroll websites aside from the social media biggies.

What's worse, you're not even able to "replay" a whole night in a moderate Twitter feed.

Simply put, I follow ~30 medium-activity accounts, I go to bed and when I wake up, I can't reach the same point in the timeline again as over 800 tweets have been posted.

Please, for heavens sake, allow the addicted to read their whole timeline. Thanks.

I would have the same problem and then prune my twitter follows down to something more manageable. Then I would slowly build up again and the same problem would occur. Now I just switched on mobile notifications for the follows who I really want to read everything they post, which has really just created another, smaller twitter feed.

What we really need is for the app to keep track of where you left off, cull the new posts into a separate page, giving you something easier to work with and catch up.

Infinite scrolling (in a desktop browser) was why I stopped using Prismatic. The endlessness makes reading the news an uncomfortable, subtly stressful experience.

There's an expectation that curated content should be a high-quality subset of the whole internet, and providing an endless stream of content undermines that expectation.

> That hollow sense of dissatisfaction needs to be replaced by the sense of achievement which can only be found by finishing something. By reaching the end.

Oh man, this is giving me a great idea! Content consumption needs to be gamified! Score points for actually reading an entire article. I could use something like that.

Your facebook and twitter feeds aren't infinite, you subscribe to a limited number of other users. All the twitter clients that don't suck will show you your twitter feed starting from where you left off. When reading, you scroll towards the most recent tweeets, which is where your feed ends.

Obviously, as it is a live feed, it doesn't "end", but if your feed doesn't grow faster than you consume it, you will complete reading it in the same sense you complete reading your email inbox. It's a personal preference if you treat twitter like an email inbox (read everything) or like daytime tv/elevator music (a never ending stream of noise).

If you start browsing random tags on flickr, or randomly stumble through global twitter feeds of infinite depth, that is no difference from the streams of tv or radio that existed before too.

So a satisfying green screen appears and the user congratulates herself -- she has finished reading all the tweets, all the news. But that's not possible, is it? Some tasks don't have a satisfying end. So introducing an arbitrarily created one just calls the whole task's meaning into question.

This idea was initially used well in Mailbox as some people do finish triaging their email. But even there completion congratulation had its problems. It was always quicker to leave mail in the inbox if it was needed later. That meant processing it just for the sake of 'completion' wasted time, and ruined the associated sense of satisfaction.

All that's not to say infinite scrolling is always perfect UX. If done without some signposts, or other way for the user to get oriented, infinite scroll can be terrible -- like infinite pagination.

Well, it's not going to end. Right? I think the answer is we just have to know when to shut it off. Infinite scroll is a gift because we are going to have to rely on ourselves to know when to stop. Which could be a useful skill, given the oceans of information we haven't even seen yet.

Yeah because in the past when I consumed media I used to listen to the radio until it went quiet.

'scroll sickness'

noun 1. nausea caused by endless web content, esp. by Facebook, Flickr, Mobile Apps, News Feeds

2. headache caused by intellectual bloat on consumption of too much content

3. compulsive behavior caused by intense boredom and brain freeze

>After spending hours scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Flipboard our mind feels tired. We feel intellectually bloated, and yet completely unsatisfied.

Standard reaction to an excess of intellectual carbs. Paginating that crap would be like individually wrapping each slice of that cake you bought for yourself - a misguided strategy to slow yourself down that you'll blow right through when you're sugar-crazy.

These services have no end because they have very little structured content at all.

You can also add that it's impossible to reach the site's footer where we expect to find the more detailed navigation elements of a site (like easy access to Contact, About, etc) and that it breaks the back button when designers make up their mind that you just scrolled through 10 'pages' on their site and updated the URL 10 times, so when you click back to escape their overloaded site to the site you came from, you have to click it 10 times to get there.

Reaching the footer could be solved by floating the footer and scrolling the text from behind it. This of course causes problems with having less space onscreen for the content you probably care about, but it is solvable.

Perhaps it could be designed to rise into view if you move the mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen, or in mobile application, perhaps it is visible when scrolling but after a predetermined timeout, it lowers out of view.

Another possibility would be for it to show when you scroll back in the list, like the address bar does with Chrome on Android. It is a little less discoverable, especially since the direction the footer would move is counter-intuitive to the scrolling movement, but once that behavior is seen the first time, I'm willing to bet that it is easily recognized and understood how to bring it up again in the future.

This isn't really a problem with infinite scrolling, but it may be a problem with the implementation.

Why adapt our apps and tools to fit our old mental functioning where information was scarce, instead of evolving to the reality where there is an excess of available information?

There are other issues with infinite scrolling (such as not being able to re-find your place, etc), however dissatisfaction is not one I experience. Maybe it's because I don't usually finish things for the sake of finishing. I'm more inclined to keep reading something until I get bored or want to do something else. I usually don't make it to the bottom of the front page of Hacker News or all the way through about 3/4 of news articles.

I think it's interesting Yahoo are attempting to address this with their News Digest app, following their acquisition of Summly. Founder Nick D'Aloisio said in a recent interview (can't find the link right now) that development of News Digest was lead by the idea that a physical newspaper or magazine has a very clear beginning and end, and that by reaching the end the reader could feel satisfaction.

This post seems more based on emotion than anything factual or statistics.

Real Talk, when infinite scrolling is bad:

1)When it moves your page location up when loading more.

2)When it loses your location because you clicked on a link.

when infinite scrolling is good:

1) Not clicking load more or next.

Also, Facebook already tries to show you what's important and it already gets users panties in a bunch because they don't understand edgerank.

I do agree with the author but As others pointed out the algos currently are not that good to find the top10/20 stories. And the question remains that if you limit users to 20, would they feel dissatisfied that there must be more and that they are missing out?

So is the onus on the mobile developer to solve or for the user to adjust their behavior?

>This problem of endless dissatisfaction needs to be solved

Hmmm, I disagree. This seems like a solution in search of a problem. Adding pageloads by removing infinite scroll seems to me to be a clever way of putting more ads in, something I'm 100% against.

Yahoo's News Digest app has solved this so-called problem by only publishing 10 articles twice a day


That is why I love http://getpocket.com. Collect articles you are interested in, read them in your down time, when you are done, hit the check mark and.... satisfaction, go to bed.

Really appreciate the commentary HN. I'm just getting started with Elevator (apologies for the still-in-progress site with a terrible Wordpress theme). Follow @thisiselevator for more.

Very nice use of Medium theme...

There is no question infinite scrolling is a horribly stupid, resource intensive, and confusing ui. It's just dumb feature copying that made it so popular.

The one thing that never stops boggle our minds is the infinite. Nobody wants finite things, and I don't believe finite things are genuinely good for us.

An infinite football match might get a tad tedious. An infinite movie? Hmmm, I feel like I have actually seen a few of those. A couple of books I've read also felt like that. Besides,if the football match was infinite, I'd never get to read the book. And if I did, I'd only get to read one book. What if its rubbish? Im stuck with it. Sex? Infinite sex? Im getting on now, Im not sure I'd survive that. How much space would there be if we had infinite life? Not just humans, but all the animals... and plants.

No, I think I like lots of things to be finite.

A little sensationalist. Choose the correct interaction pattern for the content you are presenting.

Facebook newsfeed isn't infinite. It stops after ~150 posts.

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