Long ago (okay, not that far off), Infinite Scroll did not exist. There was a time when you had to click on the next page icon in order to see more posts on Facebook. This is especially if you were like me using a feature phone that had internet access.
The web application has come from far and it has gone through several iterations by the company over the years. One of the biggest changes was probably around 2011 when the company introduced the Timeline.
The Timeline was an area on the Facebook site where one could update their status, see what other people were up to among other things.
Having gone through all these iterations, this is probably where infinite scroll became prevalent. One could scroll through without ever finding an end to the page. This is because more and more posts were being loaded, something that is quite the phenomenon common today.
Twitter, another popular social media site, started off as an SMS based service. It quickly evolved into a web application that is now wildly used on smartphones across the world. It went through a major redesign around the same time as Facebook.
Invention of Infinite Scroll
Aza Raskin is the founder of the website called Humanized which he later built into a design company. The company was based around user interface design and understanding how users would interact with different interfaces.
In 2008, Aza’s company was eventually absorbed into Mozilla Labs and he was appointed the creative lead for Firefox, the browser we all love to use. Around the same year, Aza gave a presentation on user interactions at a Google Tech Talks Summit.
Imagine the web technologies as a hamster in a wheel; lazy and slouchy with no motivation whatsoever. In comes its daily snack, what we would term as a surge in the number of users.
Notice that excitement? The zeal to run faster in its wheel? Giving this perspective shifts your mind into what technology was and how it has evolved over time from having to click on a link to view more content, to endless scrolling.
His vision which he later actualized into the Humanized website, stood out with endless scrolling as its niche.
Whenever accessed, one would never reach the end of the page because it kept on loading newer articles on the fly without the user having to click on anything.
Furthermore, during this talk he advocated for less interactivity on different websites by highlighting these keywords,
Do not force users to ask for more content, just give it to them.
This new form of interacting was developed in 2006. Not only was the concept significant in loading various articles at the start but also as the user continued scrolling down, more content would load automatically without having to refresh the page or click on any link as opposed to the google search results page.
Why Social Media loves it
Today, there are renown companies that use this form of technique in their apps and websites. However, I will focus on two of them; namely Facebook and Twitter.
One of the major reasons why it continues to be a big deal is because it takes away choice for users. Look, I am trying to be a little optimistic here and not shunning this thought!
The site will only give you the content that you may only constantly want. Therefore, one does not have to think about it regularly and you do not have to make any choices.
Take a look at Instagram (owned by Facebook); They use the same technique whereby a user will only have to open their feed or discover page and be exposed to this phenomenon of endless scrolling.
Endless scrolling is a viable instrument in communicating today. There is so much inexhaustible and yet time-consuming content from all over the world. Imagine all this content widespread across one billion accounts on just one app?
This spectacle of endless scrolling gives Instagram the ability to have multiple adverts every after a couple of posts of usually up to two to four posts.
Similarly, it reduces the rate of interactivity to just the mere basics for any user thereby increasing the time spent on the app.
Clicking through different links makes people lose interest gradually. Imagine being in a position to like a photo only for you to be redirected to a separate page? It takes up a lot of navigation time for such a simple action to be performed.
These companies brilliantly lure their users into using the site or app as different ads are displayed across for as long as possible. It all comes down to user retention.
However, it is surprising that Google does not use this interactivity on its search results site yet they were among the first companies to see it in action back in 2008.
The search results are seamlessly spot on and there is no need to move past the first page. Therefore, everyone wants a high search engine optimization (SEO) ranking. It would also make loading such results slow as much as they are loaded on the fly.
Why the inventor hates it?
Aza has been a vocal advocate for the ethical use of technology and has spoken out loudly against bad technology use cases.
In an interview with BBC in 2018, he said while referring to social media companies. “It is as if they are taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface. That is the thing the keeps you coming back”.
At the time of making this new technology, Aza did not realize how addictive it would eventually become. Today, most designers use infinite scroll to have higher user retention numbers.
He goes on to note that behind every screen on your phone, there are generally a thousand engineers that have worked on that app to try to make it maximally addicting.
At the end of it all, these are services we are going to continue using whether we like it or not. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter have all played a part during this pandemic. They have enabled people to keep connected more than ever and the numbers clearly show that.
We are just going to live with the fact that the companies might use different tactics to keep us glued but it all started with losing choice.