The Evolution of Scrolling

Aaron Clayton, Lead UX Engineer
Posted on Sep 13, 2018

The year is 1993. Most websites were much like a classified ad. Users would visit a website to gather information on a restaurant, hotel, church, etc. In other cases, sites were used to display a number of links that a particular company or person was interested in. The Drudge Report still uses this idea to this day.

A few years pass, and the internet had become more prominent. Tools such as Microsoft FrontPage were invented to help create websites faster and without having to possess a lot of code knowledge. Websites became more complex and showed substantially more information than just a list of items. Quickly, it became a battle of, “I want to show all of this, but I need to put all the important things at the top of the page,” vs. “Will people scroll down to see the rest of my content?”

The Scroll Evolution

In the early days' users actually had to scroll by moving the mouse to the right edge of the browser window, clicking the scroll bar, and dragging it down. It was that way from 1984 until the scroll wheel was invented.

In 1996, Microsoft unveiled the Intellimouse, the first mainstream mouse that would make life easier for its users, and improve the overall user experience when it came to surfing the web. This would help users who were using Microsoft Word, navigate their documents at a much more efficient pace.

Scrolling became more popular through the late 90s, but for some reason, website developers were still in the mindset of placing all relevant information at the top of the screen. And keep in mind that screen resolutions were only 800x600 at this point, with 1024x768 becoming readily available toward the latter part of the 90s.

Keeping Content "Above the Fold"

Despite the scroll wheel as the norm, and displays getting larger resolution, still the myth existed that sites should keep content above that scroll mark—or to use the newspaper analogy “above the fold.”

In 1998, Jared Spool (one of the highest regarded experts on the subject of user experience) did a usability test that proved that 66% of users would scroll subconsciously, even though they had stated they preferred not to on a website. However, the myth prevailed, until 2007, when the first popular mobile browser was released with the iPhone. It made more sense to vertically scroll with the iPhone’s narrow yet tall screen size. Sites that chose to be iPhone friendly, utilized the idea that users would use their fingers to scroll up and down, as the user interface dictated that to them in other native applications—such as phone contacts and music. Other cell phone providers followed suit and from that point on, the myth was accepted as debunked.

We’ve come a long way from those early days of the web. Data suggests that users will find the information most relevant to them on a page, regardless of where it exists. Run a little experiment of your own by visiting Life below 600px. You might be surprised at the results. Either way, the myth of “above the fold” and “no one wants to scroll” can be long behind us.