Using and Styling Infinite Scrolling

infinitescrolling
I came across the curious idea of “infinite scrolling” in the past week, as I searched for ways to make a Tumblr theme less annoying to browse. Especially on blog sites like Tumblr, the idea of having no page numbers to click has caught on as a way to make browsing easier–new posts and search results pop up without having to click or tap again.

Google’s Image Search and Pinterest both famously do this, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and 9gag–and those are just the websites I use most often that have infinite scrolling enabled. It’s becoming more and more popular with mobile-friendly sites especially, since scrolling on a mobile device is as simple as the flick of a finger. But I wondered whether it was really worthwhile. Should I dedicate time to learning this technique and using it on my pages, just because it’s Internet-popular?

I decided the best way to test it was to approach infinite scrolling as a user would, rather than as a designer. Read on to find out pros and cons, which sites can use infinite scrolling, and how best to style and set up your infinite scrolling layout!

Infinite Scrolling: Pros and Cons from My Experience

Pros

  • Passively taking information in has never been simpler
  • Works great when all you have to do is click briefly on something to save it for later
  • Especially easy to browse for images this way
  • Great for scanning items quickly for content

Cons

  • Can’t reliably return to your “position” in the item stream if you follow a link or click to “read further”
  • Always updates so you never get to the bottom of any results
  • Item feed usually displays one at a time, so it can get boring to search through endless data
  • Hard to find items again if you pass them by accidentally

Where Infinite Scrolling Works Best (and Worst)

If you have a website with quick blurbs of content and images, where links don’t take you out of the “stream” of information, infinite scrolling works well. This is great for news sites and some blogs–and I can see why it’s become popular with Tumblr themes, too. When you’ve got lots of posts with just a few images, a quote, or a short paragraph, infinite scrolling saves your user a lot of clicks.

But if you’ve got a website with a lot of links or in-depth content, such as this very blog you’re reading right now, infinite scrolling is definitely not your friend. Users will have a hard time searching your site for information, and every time they click to “read more,” they end up at the top of the page–very frustrating! Infinite scrolling on sites with fewer but longer posts (and/or more links to external content) doesn’t work nearly so well.

If You’re Going to Use Infinite Scrolling…

  • Make sure your posts are tagged thoroughly so that once people find one post they like, they can use its tags to find other similar posts on your site. (Example: an LOLcat picture could be tagged with “lolcat”, “cats”, “humor”, and “meme”.)
  • Use CSS to design your posts so that each one stands out on the page–make your posts’ headlines big and bold, surround each of them with a differently-colored “box” from the background. Anything you can do to separate out individual posts while people browse will help them navigate better!
  • Make your navigation either stick to the top of the page or scroll in a fixed position alongside the content. Infinite scrolling where navigation is only found at the top of the page = NOT a great idea, at all.
  • Give your users a separate “tag list” page where they can quickly scan through and see what kinds of posts you have on your site. That way, they don’t have to waste time scanning through your post stream to find things they like.

For Further Reading

jQuery4U: 5 jQuery Infinite Scrolling Demos
Awwwards: Best Infinite Scroll Websites
NNGroup: Infinite Scrolling is Not for Every Website
SmashingMagazine: Infinite Scrolling–Let’s Get to the Bottom of This
CodySherman.com: Infinite Scrolling Javascript

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