When endless scrolling was first used in publishing companies, it was celebrated with champagne. I know what I’m talking about because until 2015 I worked for Hearst UK, which publishes magazines such as Cosmopolitan UK.
Replacing homepage widgets and carousels with fast-loading, endless scrolling has brought brand engagement metrics to heaven. Many media brands have seen a subsequent fourfold increase in the time users spend on a page. The presence of the ad “above the fold” did not matter now, as the “fold” disappeared into endless scrolling.
Endless scrolling is the enemy of long attention span
While this technology was certainly the right solution at the time, providing an exquisitely executed backend for editors, lately I have a feeling that we should abandon the concept of an infinite feed.
In 2019, metrics and business models powered by endless scrolling are no longer the best choice for publishers, and dare I say this is bad for society. As display ads get slower and CPMs decline, many publishers are struggling to get extra page views or a few seconds spent on the site with clickbait headlines.
Publishers undoubtedly have both social and financial responsibilities. Therefore, they shouldn’t post misleading titles just for the sake of a few more clicks and scrolls. Yet many are sticking to the same metrics and tactics to support their now dying revenue stream.
Why are we worried about endless scrolling?
If we’ve learned anything about news and “content” ecosystems over the past five years, it is that sites that maximize pageview time are not generating useful content (see any site advertised in the Taboola / Outbrain widget) …
This approach will work for several years. However, in the end, the lack of a stable audience makes itself felt, and these publications become a pale shadow of the former media resource (see: Mic.com and Babe.Net). So why are sites still being designed with these metrics in mind?
“The endless scrolling has always felt like a question waiting to be solved,” says John *, CEO of Hearst and News UK for many years. “When endless scrolling came along, sites saw an increase in time on page, but did it really have any value? Traditionally, websites always have a footer where you can find [такие вещи, как] contacts, help, etc. Now they suddenly disappeared. What if users keep scrolling just because they are looking for this information? I hate this”.
The transition from endless scrolling to an algorithm …?
For several years now, there have been discussions about the transition of interfaces from endless scrolling to a personalized feed. There is some evidence that while personalized experiences will be welcome, we will still be concerned that we are missing out on great content elsewhere.
Specifically, in 2016, Instagram (arguably one of the key platforms encouraging publishers to move to endless scrolling after they proved it worked) switched to more personalized content by moving from a chronological to an algorithmic feed. This completely discouraged his users.
People wanted to use the app until they were sure they had viewed all of the Instagram posts. Previously, the user was notified when they reached the last post they left off in the previous view. (This led to the notification “That’s it for now”).
“There is some evidence that while personalized experiences will be welcome, we will still be concerned that we are missing out on great content elsewhere.”
The introduction of an algorithmic feed with “top most important posts in the top” alarmed users who were worried that they had missed important posts and now had little control over the content displayed in the feed. How do they know when to stop?
It seems like we all desperately needed to get back to endless scrolling, but Instagram has stayed true to the personalization changes. The platform reported that two years after the changes were implemented, the average scrolling time in the application was approximately 30 minutes, and more than 500 million daily active users in Stories this year.
But we made the same mistake again. Are these metrics really valuable? Or are they falsely bloated and users automatically run their fingers across their phone screens to make sure they are still up to date with the latest news? Are we not repeating the fate of the first generation of endless scrolling?
“I have to believe that in the long run, a contextual presentation of one valuable link will outweigh the lists of crap shown to the user,” a former colleague tells me. And, yes, I would also like to believe it, but will it be so?
Shaping the future of endless scrolling
There must be one brave publisher who will give up on endless scrolling. Yes, you can usually recommend stories for home and main landing pages, but only to a certain extent, and those pages are still full of content for the sake of content.
The algorithm shows you content based on previously read content and what your friends have read on the platform. Smart editorials of the future can present you with brand / company policies for you to enjoy plus algorithmic personalized recommendations. This is good for readers and business.
Who will be the next fearless UX leader? Who will be brave enough to start moving away from click-driven business models? Who would give up the call to endlessly scroll through the feed and instead implement a human-centered experience?
Imagine the perfect referral page, made up of personalized suggestions and editorial policies, that you could fully view in just two scrolls and be happy with the quality of the experience.
As we fight our current information (and disinformation) overload, and seek social responsibility and proven content sources, I want to believe that more publishers will replace “fast-generated content” with quality instead of quantity.
In 2019, metrics and business models powered by endless scrolling are no longer the best choice for publishers, and dare I say this is bad for society.
We can no longer leave this to the machines. And as display ads decline, asking users to pay for content is a smart option, which should reduce the need for countless articles. This in turn will increase devalued page views or time spent on the site. After all, what would you rather pay for? Genuine connection between people? Or an endless stream of content?
“I think we will see a move towards a decision-making experience. Then all the content on the website will be components, and what the user sees will be based on the many decisions made by humans and computers, ”says John. “It will take some effort on the part of UX designers, though. We see something similar in the Global Experience Language. “
“Who will be the next fearless UX leader? Who will be brave enough to start moving away from click-driven business models? Who would give up the call to endlessly scroll through the feed and instead implement a human-centered experience?
I understand that business models and editorial workflows make this much more difficult than it sounds. But even if you disagree with the future direction of the industry, I think everyone will agree: the world will be better when endless scrolling finally dies.
* Names were changed…