Pagination On The Web: Scourge Or Menace?

Slate’s Farahad Manjoo is on a one man crusade against page breaks in web postings:

Pagination is one of the worst design and usability sins on the Web, the kind of obvious no-no that should have gone out with blinky text, dancing cat animations, and autoplaying music. It shows constant, quiet contempt for people who should be any news site’s highest priority—folks who want to read articles all the way to the end.

Pagination persists because splitting a single-page article into two pages can, in theory, yield twice as many opportunities to display ads—though in practice it doesn’t because lots of readers never bother to click past the first page. The practice has become so ubiquitous that it’s numbed many publications and readers into thinking that multipage design is how the Web has always been, and how it should be.

Neither is true: The Web’s earliest news sites didn’t paginate, and the practice grew up only over the past decade, in response to pressure from the ad industry. It doesn’t have to be this way—some of the Web’s most forward-thinking and successful publications, including BuzzFeed and the Verge, have eschewed pagination, and they’re better off for it.

So would we all be: Pageview juicing is a myopic strategy. In the long run, unfriendly design isn’t going to help websites win new adherents, and winning new readers is the whole point of being a website. I bet that if all news sites switched to single-page articles—and BuzzFeed-style scrolling galleries instead of multipage slideshows—they’d experience short-term pain followed by long-term gain. Their articles would get shared more widely and, thus, win more loyal, regular visitors for the publication. In fact, pagination is so horrible that I suspect eradicating it from the Web might also lead to bigger breakthroughs—it would almost certainly solve the Iran nuclear crisis and eliminate the fiscal cliff—but I don’t want to make any promises.

I must admit to being slightly annoyed at the practice myself, especially when I’m in the middle of an interesting piece only to get to the bottom and discover I’m going to have to click through as many as six or seven pages to get to the end. The New York Times and most other major newspaper websites do this all the time, as does, ironically enough, Slate itself.  Manjoo is right that the main purpose of breaking up a long article up into multiple pages is to increase pageviews and advertising hits, and that is perhaps what is most annoying about the practice. There really isn’t any functional reason why an article of any length needs to be broken up into “pages” when posted on the web, it’s already on a page that has no set limitations. This isn’t  a newspaper or magazine where you have to worry about column inches and such, after all. There’s really now reason why a single web page can’t be used to fit an article no matter how long it is.

Some sites have come up with the happy medium of allowing users to view the entire article as a single page, which I find myself doing fairly often when it’s offered. At this point, it’s sites like The Washington Post that don’t offer this option that seem to be behind the times. For those sites, though, you can usually at least simulate the experience by putting the article in print format, not a perfect solution but better than nothing. Moreover, as Manjoo points out, though, there’s no reason why the “view as a single page” view couldn’t be the default view, with users being given the option of viewing the post in page format if they choose.  After all, why should I be forced to deal with antiquated web design built around the idea of “pages” that are completely unnecessary.

Thus ends our rant for the day.

FILED UNDER: General,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    The worst variant of this is the “listicle,” in which a Top 10 list is broken down into 11 pages: an intro and then one page per listed item.

  2. John Peabody says:

    There are dozens of lists that I would enjoy, would it not be for the damning click and wait for each slide to present itself. Now I no longer click on the initial links, knowing that the irritation is ahead. You lost me, site provider!!!

  3. Jeremy says:

    Manjoop? Or Manjoo? You spell it the latter on the first instance, but the former in all other instances.

    Also, pagination sucks donkey balls. I don’t know if it’s the worst thing on the web–that might be Flash–but it’s one of them. Oy vey.

  4. Eric says:

    Oh my gosh, I thought I was not the only one who hated the page breaks.

    @James Joyner:

    Time does that all the time. I love lists, but its annoying to click for the next one. Then it gets really annoying when trying to go back to the homepage and it goes through the list again.

  5. Eric says:

    @Eric:

    I meant “I thought I was the only one.”

  6. @Jeremy:

    Yea I fixed that.

    And the worst thing on the web is Rickrolling.

  7. John Burgess says:

    I tend to favor news sites that have a “View as a single page” or “Print” option. The former is self-explanatory; the latter tends to produce a single page ready for printing, but not requiring it.

    And yes… any site that’s going to require me to click through 11 pages to see 10 items in a list is a site that I will avoid, even if I’d like to see what it’s offering. Now, by checking the site to which a link goes, I’ll recognize the nuisance sites and just avoid them. That way, they don’t even get one click to count.

  8. Tony W says:

    While we’re ranting – if your video plays automatically upon page loading (I’m looking at you abcnews.com) then I’m not coming back. Ever.

  9. Jeremy says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, I will never give you up.

  10. Tony,

    Yes. Which is why I am always reluctant to link to a story on ABC News’s website.

  11. Alex says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You fixed it the wrong way: his name is spelled “Manjoo” with no “p”.

  12. Clearly I needed more coffee

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Or less wine!

  14. James in LA says:

    Scourge. Add auto-start videos, ads before videos, and whole-page ad hijaks. Also add commenting systems that do not allow edits but do force you to open 6 dialog boxes to get authorized only to find the moderator has rejected your post.

    Not every moment of one’s life needs to be monetized. If you are writing content that would annoy YOU, it’s time for a new line of work.

  15. KansasMom says:

    Ughhh, I thought I was the only one who hated this! My kids poured a glass of water on my wi-fi router and I often load up an article and then take the laptop somewhere more comfortable to read it. Nothing pisses me off more than being enthralled in an article and then not being able to finish it. And ads, have never, will never voluntarily click on one!

  16. mtnrunner2 says:

    I don’t really need most articles broken up into pages. Seems like a relic of the dial-up modem era. Not sure if pagination is the product of efficiency, advertising or actual dial-up use (is that really possible?).

    I do know that in my work as a developer, breaking large sequences of data into pages can improve performance on even the fastest setups… but that’s usually tabular data, i.e. looks like Excel.

  17. grumpy realist says:

    The only slight hesitation I have against single-page is that sometimes you try to print the article out and the site is idiotic enough that you only get the first page delivered to the printer. I haven’t decided whether it’s a Microsoft Outlook problem or bad coding on the part of the site provider.

    (And don’t get me started on what the bloody USPTO has done to their trademark database system: it is now well-nigh impossible to get a print-out of all the relevant information associated with a trademark. I mourn TARR…..)

  18. rudderpedals says:

    It really sucks when on a small screen device and you get the article body readable only to have to do it all over again for the next page, and the next page, and the next page. Oh and those fonts in anything other than black? Ditch em. These are a few of very loathesome things.

  19. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “The worst variant of this is the “listicle,” in which a Top 10 list is broken down into 11 pages: an intro and then one page per listed item. ”

    I hate those, and I refuse to read them, unless they feature [REDACTED – NOT SAFE FOR WORK]

  20. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “Clearly I needed more coffee ”

    Or alcohol – then you wouldn’t care 🙂