Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Opinion: Infinite Scrolling Web Pages Considered Harmful,

This article could also be titled:
  • Bring Back Pagination - it worked fine for all those years
  • Why does Slashdot suck (keep crashing Safari) on my iPad?
Lately, it seems that the new shiny is to have web pages that automatically load more content as you scroll down.  This saves you from having to hit a link to go to the next page of older content. At first this seems very cool and intuitive. Auto-filling in content saves you from reloading all of the page's chrome and ads again. However, if you need to go back any more than that and this feature winds up being a step back in functionality.

Consider what happens when you come across a new blog you've never read and you might want to do something unheard of like read the whole thing.  How do you know where you are?  How do stop and come back to it?  How do you access one of the pages in the middle?  All of the pagination controls are now gone. If you need to come back to it, say because your browser crashed, you need to start at the beginning and reload all of the content all over again, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling until you find what you've last read.

Where this really blows up, literally, is devices with limited amount of memory like tablets. A guaranteed way to crash Safari on iOS is to access one of these infinite pages. As soon as the page gets big enough, iOS will run out of memory, and kill Safari as the largest process.

Slashdot doesn't actually auto-fill, but requires you to hit a button to load more into the current page. (The regular "desktop" version of the site still uses classical pagination, where there is a "more / older" button to go back a page.)  Depending on the state of my iPad, between two and five loads of additional content will cause Safari to crash. Slashdot has it exactly backwards from what it should be. "Desktops" have oddles of (virtual) memory when compared to mobile devices.

How bad this behaviour is depends on how much memory your device has.  The first iPad had 256MB. Ok, that's old news, what about current models?  The iPad 2 which is still being sold for an astonishingly small discount of $100 less than the current fifth generation iPad only has 512 MB.  The last three generations of iPads (third though the fifth) have maxed out at 1 GB of ram. Clearly Apple doesn't believe more is needed, while there are web designers who feel an infinite amount of memory available and their content is the only thing you'd be looking at on your device. Am I surprised, unfortunately no.  Hopefully this yet another new trend will fade away when it's no longer the current new shiny.

Tip of the day:
At least for Slashdot you can get a paginated version if you can find the links for "classic" mode and bookmarking those. tries to be smart and redirects you to if it thinks you are on a mobile device.

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