Why I Don't Paginate

Published: 2020-09-06

TL;DR: Pagination is a poor user experience so I stopped doing it for my blog. This post is about why.

The Status Quo

Pagination has long been the status quo for content websites. News sites and blogs are the obvious examples.

The concept of "pages" also has (obviously) a real world analogy in newspapers, books, magazines, etc. I would imagine the physical world limitations that constrained print had a significant impact on the early designs of the web.

Then there's network bandwidth. The web was initially a content platform. Content-focused sites have been around since the beginning, and in the beginning bandwidth was extremely limited compared to today*. If you have tight bandwidth constraints it makes sense to break content up in some way so that a user can download something in a reasonable amount of time.

So, pagination has been the way to go for a long time and for good reason. However, modern websites have different constraints and viewership than in the past. Using pagination because "everyone paginates their websites" is not a good reason. Following the status quo is easy, but we can do better.

The Web from a Viewer's Perspective

When you visit a content site, chances are you're there for the content. If you buy in to this assumption (as I do) then it makes sense to minimize the friction of viewing your content.

For example, I would assert: Scrolling presents less friction than scrolling and then clicking page 2 and then waiting for a new page load.

When you're looking through a content listing (blog or news homepage for example) simply scrolling until you find something of interest is a better experience than wading through multiple pages.

Pagination is a worse user experience than a single list of posts.

Common Objections

Spoiler: I consider all these fair. I'm not an anti-pagination fundamentalist—do what works for you.

Large Collections

Yup. It's one thing to list dozens of blog posts without pagination, maybe even hundreds. However, any order of magnitude above triple digits will probably require some form of pagination or windowing.

The content will be too long

This is a fair concern. Lots and lots of content on your homepage will increase load time and potentially scare viewers away when they encounter a text-wall. Thus, if your homepage includes the full content of each post

My WordPress theme only does pagination...

Totally fair. Hacking on WordPress themes was one of my first "jobs" after learning to program and I fully empathize. PHP spaghetti is a dish best not served.

There are reasons to consider a platform other than WordPress, but there are plenty of reasons to keep using it to. Do what works for you.

Pagination is vital for my ad impressions

I'm not fan of ads, but a business needs to make money and if this is how you do it it's not my place to judge. I would just point out that not all ad-based business paginate otherwise single-page content, so I would posit that it's possible to run an ad business without excessive pagination. Still, changing your ads model requires time—your time, not mine. So it would be inauthentic of me to demand change on this front.

Prior Art

I make no claims to have first discovered that pagination is both unnecessary and inconsistent with good UX on a content site. I was first inspired by Kyle Mathews' blog (he's the creator of the framework that builds the blog you're reading now). Since blogs change from time to time his homepage might be different than at the time of this writing (2020-09-06), but the gist was this:

  • A single page of blog post titles, which linked to full posts

Paul Graham does the same thing with his essays. He's written a lot and been writing for a long time. If a single-page index works for him it can probably work for you as well.

ASIDE I attribute the fact it was Kyle's site and not pg's site that first inspired me to my life circumstances at the time. A JavaScript hacker interested in static sites (Kyle) was figuratively much more proximate than a startup luminary (pg).

So what?

Remove pagination from your site! ...ok that's a bit overzealous.

There are reasons this isn't an easy option so the zero-pagination index page might be a non-starter for some people.

However, if you have technical control over your site and are prone to considering the UX of your viewers then consider it.

About me

I write about life as well as my mistakes and successes as I learn to build a business. I'm building a self-funded startup (Pairwise).

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