Pagination Patterns and Losing Time in Facebook

Do you ever get on Facebook, planning only to update your status, check out a few groups, and instead find yourself stuck in there? I do. I lose track of time. It could because the content is so compelling; but I doubt that. I blame the pagination.

Go to a group in Facebook and have a look at the members list. In a group with 12,504 members you can only progress through the list with previous or next links.

Facebook Group Member list
Facebook Group Member list

Go to albums, or to a particular album. While the extent of content is revealed the total number of pages isn’t, not until you get to the very end.

Facebook Album Progressive Pagination
Facebook Album Progressive Pagination

The approach to pagination differs at the Mayo Clinic, a medical information site. Conducting a search will reveal the total number of search results and the total number of search result pages. In a large search result list, this will hopefully prompt the user to narrow their search terms.

CMS search result pagination
CMS search result pagination

Google invested so much in pagination that they married their logo to the number of search result pages. As we are all well aware, the Google logo itself helps to illustrate the vastness of the search with added O’s that stretch the length of the logo to match the length of the search result. Google has a hybrid approach to the two patterns of pagination discussed  above.

A search for “cancer” yields approximately 198,000,000 results but at first only 10 search result pages.

Google pagination showing 1 to 10 of *about* 198,000,000
Google pagination showing 1 to 10 of about 198,000,000

Clicking next reveals the 10th, 11th, 12th page and so on. As you progress further the pagination increases by 10 pages. The total pages are never revealed.

Google progressive page pagination
Google progressive pagination

From memory, Google use to indicate the total number of search result pages, but I could be wrong. This could be due to the fact that it is not worthwhile doing the calculation. It has been well tested and documented that people are likely to only look at the first few search result pages. Google’s approach to  initially show 10 pages  may just encourage people to search deeper, stay on their pages longer and have more eyeballs on sponsored links.  I am not sure if I should consider Google’s 10 page pagination approach as cynical; it could be both a matter of usability and a revenue raiser. It is obvious that in large search results there is no point in even offering the user access to all the pages.

Admittedly the purpose and technologies behind these three sites are completely different so it is no surprise that their pagination is different. The Mayo Clinic is a vast website and information resource and runs on a CMS. Google of course is a search engine and anyone faced with large search results is likely to refine their terms.

Facebook on the other hand clearly defies the web conventions we have become accustomed to. It never offers us the total number of pages and teases us with progressive page numbers. Nor does is offer links to the first or last page. This is the case in albums, groups, search result pages, throughout the application it seems.  It is a clever strategy albeit one that reminds me of shopping centre architecture—deliberately designed to get you lost, make you wander inside and lose your sense of time.


For a more thorough discussion on pagination and pagination patterns see

Screenshots taken and annotated with Fireshot.



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