Publishers rethink the infinite scroll

The infinite scroll is a work in progress.

The feature, which loads content continuously as readers scroll down the page, has gone from design curiosity to the go-to tactic for publishers looking to boost time on-site and ad impressions. But publishers are rethinking their approach to it.

With its new article page redesign, for example, Forbes is moving away from presenting readers an endless list of posts. Instead, it’s tweaking the formula so that it shows readers a continuous list of trending headlines, which it says offers readers better mobile reading experience and boosts the viewability of its ads.

“We understood the appeal of infinite scrolling, but there wasn’t a lot of extra browsing or consumption of stories happening after people clicked that first article,” said Forbes chief product officer Lewis DVorkin. “People were reading maybe one or two in the stream.”

Forbes isn’t the only publisher cooling on the infinite scroll. CNN, too, is down on the idea, and the recent Wired relaunch also avoided it. Some publishers just aren’t convinced that the feature lives up to its promise. Part of it could be the implementation. Few publishers have been particularly sophisticated with their infinite scroll features, rarely going beyond presenting articles in blog-like reverse-chronological order.

But the approach is evolving. With Travel + Leisure’s new redesign, for example, the site is getting smarter about the articles it offers readers in its stream. Rather than present stories reverse-chronologically, the site plans to “deliver contextually relevant content” based on the topic of the original story, according to editor Nathan Lump.

Bloomberg Business has a similar strategy. Its own infinite scroll implementation, introduced with its redesign in January, serves readers new articles based on a recommendation algorithm. The feature, dubbed “the Transporter,” uses signals about what’s popular on the site to determine what to present next.

Quartz, one of the first publishers to adopt infinite scroll, sees the appeal in algorithms and personalization, but has so far kept its approach very human. When Quartz readers scroll to the next post, the only factor determining the article order is the judgment of the site’s editors, who determine the article order each day. Quartz vp of product Zach Seward said that while the site understands the appeal of a more personalized infinite scroll, it’s not hot on the idea so far.

“At this point, I’m not convinced that adding related content or personalization works well enough for our readers or our site,” he said. “Sometimes, you end up serving something that’s old. We don’t find that the story people want to read next is another piece today about the same thing.”

Photo courtesy of Jim, the Photographer

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