Create value, not a game of chance.

Get rid of infinite scrolling and focus on creating intentional, not accidental, value.

Your brain on the internet.

There's a rising call for more intentional use of the web. As consumers, we're more aware than ever of how much time we sink into our devices. As consumers who also work on product teams, we're coming to terms with our responsibility in that space.

Jim Forrest's piece, “Internet, go the f-ck to sleep!,” struck a chord in March. He challenges what product teams choose to value.

“… venture capitalists asking how many active users a platform has are contributing greatly to bad design of products - one where addiction is seen as a positive metric of success.”
Source: “Internet, go the f-ck to sleep!

We've traditionally measured success through metrics including time on site and time in app. But then our industry (or at least the shapers of our industry) implemented screen time features that essentially shamed people about spending that time in app.

Kate Lucey also wrote a piece, “It's time to kill the infinite scroll,” that challenged the theoretical problem that we solved through never-ending pages of content. When we reflect on the history of infinite scroll, it's telling that it began when we cared most about time on site.

“Infinite scroll always seemed like a solution waiting for a question," John, a managing director who's spent years working at Hearst and News UK, tells me. “Sites saw an increase in time on page when infinite scroll came along but did it really equate to anything of value?”
Source: “It's time to kill the infinite scroll

Kate included a case study around Instagram's choice to move from a chronological feed to one personalized using an algorithm. Users were worried they would “miss out on crucial posts… How would they know when to stop?” Then, perhaps as a result, Instagram “… reported '~30m average scroll time' in the app two years later…” when user backlash had all but faded into the background. Instagram and other platforms continue to be stuck using the same metric: time on page.

Kate Lucey challenges publishers to “[take] the leap away from endless scrolling and towards - gasp! - [editorializing] their pages.”

“Who will be our next fearless UX leader? Who will be bold enough to begin moving away from business models that rely on clicks? Who will avoid the siren's call of the endlessly scrolling feed and instead implement a human-curated experience?”
“Imagine a perfectly curated page mixed with personalized suggestions plus an editorial stance, one where you could completely consume with just two scrolls and be satisfied with the quality experience. Woah.”
Source: “It's time to kill the infinite scroll

I agree that we should move away from focusing on time on site and move towards providing value. Some companies are trying to create that curated experience not by humans but with algorithms for each human.

I don't think that a single human-curated page or thousands of algorithm-curated pages will solve the problem. And I don't think our users believe that either.

Instagram knows a lot about us—from what we comment on, like, tags we use, and so on—and yet when they moved to a personalized feed, we didn't trust them to show us what we wanted to see. They theoretically have the data to show you what you're most likely to interact with—their definition of something that's valuable to you—but still you feel you're missing something. And so you keep scrolling, to make sure you'll see everything you'd want to see.

I don't think a perfectly curated page will create the satisfaction we hope it will. I don't think our algorithms are there yet. Additionally, I think the content-consuming habits we've developed have gone past being satisfied with a single page. You can tell me it's the right amount of the right content for me, but I want more.

Publishers have to do better than individual, well-curated, pages. They need to give their readers the tools to find what is good and what is valuable.

In a study at the University of Washington, researchers interviewed and tracked the phone use of 45 adults living in the US. They explored phone use including social media, getting things done, and connecting with others.

“A common theme that emerged from the analysis was the loss of autonomy or acting without the experience of choice.”
Source: “Solving meaningless smartphone use through design

Infinite scrolling is the slot machine of the internet. Product companies have perfected this “Hooked” formula. They provide something people want and make it easy to access. Then to keep people in place—spending more time on site—they add a dash (or a bucketful) of variability so users feel they need to stay, performing the action over and over, craving that delicious rush of dopamine.

Infinite scroll has done away with friction. People keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling, hoping what they want, what they need, is just one more swipe away.

Get rid of infinite scrolling and focus on creating intentional, not accidental, value. Instead of holding people in a state where they hope they will happen upon what they want, help them find it.

Right now we have long lists that contain—or appear to contain—The Whole Of The Internet. What if, like Kate Lucey suggests, you showed a single curated page that you think includes what individuals and people want? Then take it a step further, if what they're looking for isn't there, then ask them to deliberately choose what part of The Whole Of The Internet they want—with search, filter and sort options, or category links. Provide tools for people to seek out the content they want that they may have missed on the curated page. Enable and encourage them to intentionally seek content. Give them control.

Content websites like Quora, Reddit, and many news or magazine sites do this to some extent already. They provide recommendations based on your and others' reading behaviour (curation) but also provide tools for sorting through content on your own. But still the focus on these sites and apps is on showing as much content as possible. Instead designs should equally present a selection of curated content alongside tools for you to discover or direct yourself to what you want—and perhaps need.

It may turn out that people find what they want faster, in two clicks instead of 200 swipes. They may find less things of interest, but place more value on what they do find. Or maybe they'll discover what they want isn't there at all.

“Mobile applications should encourage the users to move on after they have achieved their purpose."
Source: “Solving meaningless smartphone use through design

Can you take that risk? Can we let people move on?

Why not? Our metrics for success today say no. But our metrics for success need to change, so we can create space for healthy behaviour online, leading to richer lives offline. The companies that choose to do this will be positioning themselves and their products to drive the cultural change in our relationship with technology.

Focus on creating value, not a game of chance.