Goodbye pagination, welcome to The Big Scroll

The debate between pagination and scrolling content continues as sites switch formats to accommodate long-form, interactive online content that adapts to every screen.

Death to pagination. Or so it seems. In the era of
responsive design where the web needs to adjust to every mobile device and readers
want to consume long form content online without clicking through a series of
pages, we are entering into what I like to call “The Big Scroll.”

It is similar to watching 13 hours of a Netflix series in
one sitting where the next episode just rolls right in after the last one
without any real action from the end user. It’s the seamless consumption of
content, in a nearly binge-like manner, with no reason to stop or slow down.

Just. Keep. Scrolling.

If you look at the latest publishing startups such as Medium, aggregators like Longreads, experimental projects like “Snowfall”
at The New York Times or if you’ve ever gotten mesmerized by the lists on
Buzzfeed, you will notice a similarity. It’s a never ending scroll of a webpage
instead of the click-to-next page and browser reload that prevails elsewhere
online.

Pagination is useful for the publisher, but not so useful
for the reader. If I think like a media executive, I see pagination as a good
thing because it can help increase page views and offer more advertising
opportunities. But if I think like a reader, the process of clicking through a
long article or gallery is a truly painful way to consume information. Farhad
Manjoo has a compelling piece over at Slate
that advocates for the single
page read instead of pagination, but he doesn’t really offer a business
solution for its existence.

One way to please both revenue and readers is to rely on
different metrics to measure the value of information. A greater understanding
about visitors, plus time on site metrics for various verticals and a
measurement of how far a reader gets down the page on a regular basis could
help to monetize this long-form, scrolling content. Also, this might change the
way publishers interact with readers overall. Instead of providing information,
also provide a service: well-written content that can be enjoyed online, on a
tablet and on a mobile phone without the annoyance of clicking through to the
next page.

Jonah Peretti described the idea of creating quality content
that will drive traffic to his staff at Buzzfeed well. I enjoy his point of
view even if I sometimes disagree with the societal value of Buzzfeed articles
like this
one
. See Jonah’s note
to Buzzfeeders as documented by Chris Dixon, an investor:

“How does this matter in practice?
First of all, we don’t publish slideshows. Instead we publish scrollable lists
so readers don’t have to click a million times and can easily scroll through a
post. The primary reason to publish slideshows, as far as I can tell, is to
juice page views and banner ad impressions. 
Slideshows are super annoying and lists are awesome so we do lists!

For the same reason, we don’t show
crappy display ads and we make all our revenue from social advertising that
users love and share.  We never launched
one of those ‘frictionless sharing’ apps on Facebook that automatically shares
the stories you click because those apps are super annoying. We don’t post
deceptive, manipulative headlines that trick people into reading a story.  We don’t focus on SEO or gaming search
engines or filling our pages with millions of keywords and tags that only a
robot will read.  We avoid anything that
is bad for our readers and can only be justified by short term business
interests.”

Peretti’s mantra is important, but it is not exclusive to
Buzzfeed. There are many great publications out there that aim for noble causes
in storytelling and don’t play games with traffic online. But the challenge
here is not the media institutions necessarily, but the constantly evolving
format in how information is delivered and measured. When it comes to scroll or
not to scroll, there isn’t a final answer on just how many words readers are
willing to consume online and for how long. But we’re finding out and soon I
think we will see more sites using this tactic to serve readers with an
enjoyable content experience anytime, anywhere.

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