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“Load More” is not the Answer

How do you display a list with a huge number of items? Easy: just paginate – split your list into several pages and let the user click through them one by one. Google does it with their search results, every forum software in existence splits a thread after N posts, my Blog only shows 8 entries at most. It's a solved problem.

Some years ago Microsoft had a different idea with MSN Search (now Bing): Infinite Scroll. If you do an image search on Bing and scroll down far enough, more results will be loaded on the fly and appended to the current page. There's no need to click a Next Page link. I don't know if they were the first to do it, but they certainly were the first I remember.

Today, many sites are using Infinite Scroll or the slightly less ambitious Load More button. And it constantly annoys me. It's not so much that most implementations are done very carelessly, but that the idea is inherently broken and really can't be done right.

Take Twitter for example. Say I'm writing a Blog post about how John Gruber was all the rage about X a few days ago. Naturally, I want to have a link to his tweets from said day in my post, so I visit twitter.com/gruber, click the more button two or three times, till I see those tweets and… now what? How do I link to this page? Do I have to link directly to twitter.com/gruber and tell my readers to click more a couple of times? How often? Well, it of course depends on how chatty he's been since I posted my story.

You might say that this issue could be easily fixed by utilizing the Fragment Part of the URL. So after I click more the URL would change to twitter.com/gruber#20, twitter.com/gruber#40, twitter.com/gruber#60 and so on (or better yet, counting from the first tweet). Now, what if I'd want to link to Grubers first 20 tweets? The URL would be twitter.com/gruber#8900 and the page would load nearly 9000 tweets? I don't think that's a good idea.

The non-link-ability is not the only problem of this technique: How do I jump to the end of the list? Or generally, how do I jump to a specific item (e.g. the first unread post in a forum thread)? What if the page becomes so long that my browser struggles to keep up?

It ultimately boils down to what we gain by using a Load More button instead of Next Page. And the only answer I can think of, is a few milliseconds of time I'd otherwise would've spent waiting for a whole new page to load. I also believe that appending items to a page is even more confusing for the user than going to a new page. After you've clicked more a few times, the list becomes so long that you easily get lost in it.

Pagination might not be as cool as all the AJAX stuff, but for navigating a list of “infinite” size I really can't think of a better approach. It doesn't have to be the old school pagination with a Next Page link though – you could build something that utilizes AJAX, caches the next page in advance, makes use of your mouse' scroll wheel etc. Ultimately it just has to be something that says “you are viewing items 340–380 of 920”: Providing a fixed sized, moving window into a set of items, instead of the fixed position, growing window that is Load More.

Thursday, July 8th 2010
— Dominic Szablewski, @phoboslab