5 Reasons Why Pagination Makes Sense For Forum Threads

Since sites like Pinterest pioneered “infinite scrolling” in which content is automatically loaded to the page as the user scrolls down, some have applied this concept to forum software. In effect, this approach can turn a thread into a really, really long page. We disagree with this approach for several reasons. Here are five of them:

1. Big tasks are more difficult for users to accomplish

Compared to scrolling through a set of images or list of status updates on Facebook, reading a forum thread requires more brain power. It is well known that accomplishing a series of short tasks fuels motivation better than a big, amorphous goal. Reading a forum thread requires effort (at least compared to browsing photos), so it makes sense to break the task into discrete mini-tasks. A thread with hundreds of posts can be very daunting but dividing the thread into smaller pieces allows the reader to gather momentum as he or she gets caught up. We opine that a thread without pages is like a book without chapters.

2. Browser’s back button becomes unpredictable

An infinitely scrolled page can be problematic when the user leaves the page and then hits the back button on his or her browser. The browser is likely to become confused as to where the user left off. This problem especially affects mobile devices. Imagine the pain induced by re-loading and re-scrolling an entire set of results just to get back to a certain point.

3. Difficult to locate, link, and crawl content

When a user is trying to locate a particular post or send a URL linking to a certain page, the ability to jump to a specific point becomes indispensable. Same goes for search engines crawling the site. And, like #2 above, there are implications for mobile devices as well: reloading or scrolling through an entire set of results just to get to a certain point quickly proves frustrating.

4. Footer content becomes impossible to reach

It is often impossible or at least very difficult to reach the footer of a page that scrolls infinitely. This obviates a section of the page that could be used to display advertising or traditional footer content (contact links, terms of service, privacy policy, etc.).

5. Users don’t demand it

When it comes to forum content, users recognize that infinite scrolling might solve some problems caused by pagination (e.g., lag time to open the next page) but it produces new problems such as those outlined above.

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Ninja Post Forum Software: The Best Of Both Worlds

Ninja Post forum software combines the best of both worlds: the speed and simplicity of a chat room and the structure and stability of a forum.

Chat rooms are poorly organized and their content tends to be fleeting: if you’re not there in the moment, the conversation disappears. Meanwhile, traditional forums tend to dilute their conversations across too many sub forums.

Ninja Post provides just the right amount of organization so that users can quickly get up to speed on the latest topics of conversation.

Here is a handy Venn Diagram:

Venn Diagram for Ninja Post forum software

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Vertical Navigation Bar Anchors Ninja Post’s User Interface

One thing that makes Ninja Post unique compared to other forum software is its vertical navigation bar. This design convention is widely used in other web applications. Gmail is a prominent example. However, no other forum software has adopted this motif.

A vertical navigation bar makes the site’s “control buttons” consistent across all pages which in turn makes it easier to move around the site. For example, after opening a thread, the user should be able to return home without searching high and low for the right button.

Applying the vertical navigation concept to forum software one of the user interface design breakthroughs that we’re most proud of. Interestingly, incorporating a vertical navigation bar into the design complements the use of narrow columns — one of our other most significant breakthroughs in terms of forum design.

Ninja Post vertical navigation (1)

Ninja Post vertical navigation (2)

Gmail vertical navigation

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On The Importance Of Narrow Columns

When reading a newspaper or magazine, you may have noticed that it’s easy to read lots of text quickly. This may be because you’re reading Cosmo and not the Journal of Nuclear Physics but aside from a material’s complexity there is another important factor in play: the width of the text column.

A narrow column is easier to parse than a wide column. That’s because the brain can process text more quickly by moving the eyes downward instead of side-to-side. A common speed reading technique is to mitigate lateral eye movement by relying on peripheral vision to “gulp” a line of text in one shot.

Since a friendly user interface is one of our cornerstones, we set the content area for the default Ninja Post skin to be about 600 pixels wide. Coupled with a relatively large font, the content is easy for the reader to scan. Many forums set their main content areas to expand to the width of the user’s screen by default which makes it difficult to digest.

column comparison

Click to view full size image

The biggest downside to narrow columns is that it can make long pages. Thankfully it’s convenient to scroll down using the browser’s scroll bar, “space bar short cut”, or scroll wheel on a mouse.

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