Underwater scuba caribbean pattern

How a bad user experience can make you look good

Have you ever wondered why Google* doesn’t have an Infinite Scrolling (IS) for web results?

I already hear plausible answers like browser limitations, the absence of a link for some results and many more. Some will even say that it will be very hard to deal with the disappearing notion of “being on the first page on google”. I disagree because instead, you can be “above the fold** on Google”. Why didn’t Google made at least a compromise between numbered pages and infinite scrolling, by placing a big “Load more” button like you already see in images results?

Why does’t web search results have IS like Google+?

It’s not like IS is a bad experience or anything like that. Quite the opposite of numbered pages which are muddy to navigate through because you click, click, click on those little numbers that you need to target every single time. It is frustrating. And Google knows it very well. As a matter a fact, it’s counting on this. Could Google be so arrogant that it claims its best results are on the first page and you don’t need to look further? How can it know your true intentions just by looking at a single word you entered in the search field?

Let’s imagine for a moment that Google is giving us the amazing infinite scrolling (IS). Then what? It might happen that, under this impulse of scrolling (we all do this), we skip the relevant first results or get lost in scrolling. When you do this, you are engaged only in a cognitive load***. You search with your eyes by reading and cognitively speaking, your bandwidth is busy. After a while, digging down to China, you decide that there is nothing there for you. And that there is a big chance for you to quit searching. You lost time and energy. After a few similar experiences, you might came to the conclusion that Google search engine is good for nothing.

Now, what do you do in case of “click, click, click” of numbered pages? Of course, you’re also busy, cognitively speaking, but after a while you only hunt for the “next” word or a tiny number to load the next page. So you’re engaged in a visual load which is much easier than the cognitive one. You can say that, until the next page is loaded, you are free to face your frustration. You have enough bandwidth to think. About what? That there it has to be a better solution than that. Than what? Than that single word you entered in the search field. Maybe… is time time to REFINE your search and be more specific, don’t you think? This little frustration bubbling up into consciousness forced you to adapt and try to communicate better what you’re looking for, right? In this way, your patience is not wasted by looking into garbage and the probability of finding the right stuff increases enormously. And you praise google for smartness and quickness.

Wait, I’m not done yet. You may say that the user can scan for more results in case of infinite scrolling because it’s easier to discover them and in the same amount of time as in numbered pages, the user can become frustrated. Well… NOT QUITE IN THE SAME TIME. In the first case, mostly the lost of energy disengages the user from the cognitive action as opposed to the second scenario where the pause between the loading pages creates disengagement windows in user’s mind.

What does that mean exactly?

Cognitive action (reading the search results) is logical activity whereas frustration is an emotional activity. We weren’t certain until recently***** that for both activities, we humans use the same neuronal paths. We are either counting the tears in a drama movie or cry as well. We can’t do both at the same time. In other words, in pagination mode, google is increasing the chances of switching between a logical and an emotional state. For a second or two you have the “opportunity” of frustration. Emotional state is disruptive, is telling you the things need some change. You have the opportunity to say to yourself “God damn it, I have to narrow my search somehow.”

Well, this is the slow motion of a fraction of User Experience. Between a scroll and a click, drop-down or tab, there is science. At least, this is my explanation for the absence of infinite scrolling in web search results. And I don’t care if it’s not the right one. It’s interesting. I can make a movie out of it. :)


*Bing and Yahoo also

** what you see on the page before scrolling

*** there are 3 types of loads: cognitive (read, understand etc), visual (identify shapes, movement, colours) and motor (press, hit etc). The first one is the hardest and the last one the easiest.

***** “[…] we observed clear evidence of reciprocal suppression: social tasks deactivated regions associated with mechanical reasoning and mechanical tasks deactivated regions associated with social reasoning.”  and “What we see in this study is […] neural inhibition between the entire brain network we use to socially, emotionally and morally engage with others, and the entire network we use for scientific, mathematical and logical reasoning.” Dr. Anthony Jack, journal Neuroimage

Adrian Costea

  • Maria

    Well, as long as you don’t care if you’re right or not. :) Cause frankly, I don’t think you’re right. I think no amount of endless scrolling and frustration will make people switch from Google to a different search engine. Like what, Bing? That ain’t happening. I know I’ve done countless searches that were fruitless, despite my thorough scanning of pages and restricting my search and all the tricks in the book. The frustration was great but somehow it was not directed towards Google itself. I don’t know if anyone is really angry at Google, not for searches anyway. No, I think it’s most likely the “first page” thing. “Above the fold” isn’t quite as quantifiable as “first page”. Or maybe some other esoteric reason that we, in our non-Google brain, can’t even fathom. :D