Infinite Scroll Hell in WordPress.com

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The problem: Infinite Scrolling
Why is it a problem? WordPress.com users hate it. Of course, the support staff at WordPress.com won’t disclose how many people complain or try to disable Infinite Scrolling. Apparently, people have been fighting with Infinite Scrolling on WordPress.com from the beginning.
The good news: if you pay for a premium account you can implement one of those solutions and put an end to the madness.
The bad news: if you don’t pay for a premium account you’re stuck with Automattic’s horrible “fix” for Infinite Scrolling. Even though they long ago gave you a “disable infinite scroll” option in your SETTINGS dashboard, all that does is make you feel better. You still get the infinite scrolling when people click on the “OLDER POSTS” link at the bottom of the page.
I haven’t spent much time looking at this problem but it appears to me that we’re not going to have any solutions to offer to the masses of frustrated WordPress.com users except to keep telling them to get off WordPress.com.
Infinite Scrolling is now pervasive throughout the WordPress.com interface. If you try to set up a new theme on a WordPress.com account you have to sit there and twiddle your thumbs while hundreds of theme presentations load in your browser. Maybe I should have rebooted my computer but I tried clicking on things, hitting ESC — nothing interrupted WordPress.com while it went about it’s insane merry way loading my browser with hundreds of theme pitches. I felt truly sorry for the owner of the account I was helping.
WordPress.com’s Infinite scrolling creates duplicate content, too. If you click on the “Older Posts” link of a site that has “Disabled” infinite scrolling you’ll see the URL change to “/page/2/” — but this is really just a cheap Javascript trick that fools the user. The real page 2 looks different from what you’re shown in the browser because the browser just adds the page 2 content to the page 1 content.
This is not, so far as I can tell, duplicate content that will annoy a search engine but it sure as hell annoys the people who are confused about what is supposed to be at the top of page 2 (and subsequent pages).
A couple of “less experienced” people gave me grief in some comments on Search Engine Land recently because I don’t fully appreciate the power of infinite scrolling. Clearly those two individuals have not had to deal with the frustrations that half-assed infinite scrolling as implemented by WordPress.com and others creates.
Frankly, I’m getting tired of Twitter’s infinite scrolling, too but I cannot think of a better solution for scrolling through 10,000 tweets. Unless they want to implement an account-level search tool (which I think they should). It’s hard enough to search Twitter as it is, but when your search results run into the thousands how do you save anything for future reference?
That’s the real problem with infinite scrolling in all its horrible little forms: you cannot bookmark any point within the search results that you want to bookmark, so you have to go back and endlessly scroll through stuff that you have scrolled through before. You can bookmark individual posts and Tweets (most of the time) but if you’re collecting them that becomes really tedious very quickly.
There is no user-friendly reason to implement infinite scrolling on any Website. People do not think in terms of “continuous stream of information”. In fact, we still interpret Websites only one screen at a time. So creating a screen that never ends short-circuits the user’s experience, who must now work harder to grok what the screen is showing. Usability experts have been telling interface designers FOR DECADES not to overload the user with too much information.
But Web designers know best, regardless of how many complaints they receive (and ignore).
Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com, the immensely popular WordPress software, and a host of other tools and platforms, are in the process of jumping the shark. They have taken Web design into the realm of absurdity for the sake of being as cool as the other cool kids in the community. And the problem here, if I understand the WordPress design process correctly, is that this is all crowd-sourced design work.
Crowdsourcing seems to work for a minority of people when it comes to raising money (most crowdfunding projects fail) or gathering information (you end up with grammatical, syntactical, and factual nightmares like Wikipedia), and now with Web design. Crowdsourcing cannot be fixed because it cannot generate true expertise or real knowledge. Even Google — a major proponent of crowdsourcing — has learned the hard way that it is better to BE the expert (by extracting information from other Websites and republishing it on Google.com) rather than to figure out which experts are most expert.
In fact, when it comes to picking out real experts Google does a dismal job. Any 6th-grader with a dart board could do better than most search engines at finding real experts (assuming the 6th grader could see all the available data). The human brain remains the most powerful computer in our experience, and a brain that has the right conditioning (experience, knowledge, and intuitive analytical skill) can still outperform the most powerful AI systems available today when it comes to performing generalized tasks.
So when a community sacrifices experience, knowledge, and intuitive analysis for the sake of doing what a minority of people want to do, that community risks a fragmentation event where users begin to break off and form new, more competitive communities. Infinite scrolling is only the latest in a series of user-unfriendly initiatives from Automattic and their contributors. The Ghost blogging platform, while still in its infancy, is an example of how a fragmentation event begins. There may be other anti-Wordpress alternatives out there I have not yet heard about, but there will almost certainly be more in the future. It is inevitable because the design process for WordPress is becoming an ivory tower.
When I first saw the infinite scrolling at WordPress.com I knew it would only be a matter of time before Automattic rolled it out to the free distribution. Pagination, for all its faults and follies, remains a more sane approach to displaying a large amount of Web content because it creates grokkable chunks of information that people can manage. When you just keep loading more and more information onto the same page (as with image search), the user ends up confused or must result to flipping back and forth between the top, bottom, and ever-expanding middle section.
Fortunately infinite scrolling in many contexts finishes relatively quickly simply for lack of content. A lot of people complained about Google’s Image Search update a while back where a lot of “low quality” images were removed from the search results, but in fact that update made the awful experience of sifting through the infinite scrolling results a little more bearable.
I seriously doubt infinite scrolling is going away. Major Web service designers will continue to implement it in places where it doesn’t belong (I would be ecstatic to see infinite scrolling go away in Image Search) and they will have all sorts of reasons and justifications for doing so. But just because users are trapped in infinite scrolling hell doesn’t mean they want to be there.
You can put a fake “Disable” option into their settings but if you’re just going to continue loading more data into the existing screen then you should at least be honest with people and tell them you’re not going to give them what they want.
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