The death of paging on the web

May 12, 2012

I've written about the problem of permanent headers and footers before (around a year ago), but I'm seeing more and more of them these days. What this confirms for me is that paging is dead on the modern web.

By this I don't mean long pages; I'm not one of those people who think that all of your content has to be 'above the fold', immediately visible as what people see (and the available evidence from actual experimentation apparently says otherwise). What I mean is getting to that content by paging, advancing in nearly full page increments (usually by hitting the space bar in your browser). Given that permanent headers or footers (or both) screw this up, and given that permanent headers and footers are increasingly popular, I can only conclude that paging isn't really used any more; otherwise, header and footer based designs would be wretched experiences and test badly (and on the modern web, people do at least do A/B tests).

Instead, I think that on the modern web everyone has scroll wheels (or some other way of scrolling, for example on tablets) and they scroll through articles and pages with them. Only an insignificant number of people still navigate with paging.

Now I'll add a personal confession here: since I started my scroll wheel mouse experiment, I've found myself increasingly scrolling web pages instead of paging them. I don't know why, but there's just something about it that feels right (and this is on pages without obnoxious headers and footers). I think that part of it is that the boundaries of things on the web page often don't align naturally with what I'd get by paging; by partially scrolling the page I can make things line up right (this is especially visible to me if the page content includes images).

(Looking back, I've had middle mouse button based scrolling in my browser for years and have used it too instead of paging. So I should have seen this one coming.)

I don't know what this means for web page design going forward, but I suspect that it means something (I also suspect that current web designers do know what it implies; I am not exactly current on the field). There have to be things you design differently if you expect almost everyone to scroll your page around so that things can catch their eye as they move past.

(I probably won't ever put a permanent header or footer on a page I design (at least not a full-width one), but that's a personal thing. Also it would have to be something awfully important to the page to deserve a permanent full-time presence in front of the viewer. My bias is that almost all headers and footers I've seen aren't that important; in fact, they're often rather presumptuous that way, which is part of the reason I dislike them.)

Written on 12 May 2012.
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Last modified: Sat May 12 02:13:02 2012
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