Weblog Design: Pagination

Ages ago I ran this weblog using the MovableType software. In lots of ways it was my favorite version of the site. It had good templates that you could customize and I had them working exactly how I wanted. I’ve thought a lot about weblog design over the past 15+ years and figured I might as well write a little bit about it. First up, pagination.

It’s common for a weblog’s front page to feature 20 or so of the most recent posts with a link at the bottom that says something like “←Older Posts.” I feel strongly that the wording should specifically refer to the fact that the link is pointing back in time to older stuff, and not say something like “Read more.” Right now the template I’m using has a right-facing arrow, which I think is wrong. I’ll see if I can customize that. Think of a weblog like a book. You turn back the pages to older stuff, so the arrow should point left. On a page in the “middle,” you click left for older, right for newer. (Jason Kottke seems to disagree. He does it the opposite way and if there were ever a seasoned veteran of weblog design, it’s him.)

When my site was on Movable Type, here’s how I had the pages laid out:

First, obviously was the front page. It displayed 20 or 30 posts or so. The number of posts your front page displays should provide a satisfying chunk of stuff to read for a first-time visitor. In the microblog era, if you post dozens of short items a day, it might be appropriate to display 100 or more on the front page. Whatever you choose, your RSS feed should contain the same number of items so that it always mirrors the front page.

I didn’t have a “Page 2.” Instead, the “older posts” link pointed to the monthly archive page for whenever the next post had been. If the front page currently has posts from today back through May, “Page 2” would link to the May archive, scrolled down (anchored) to the next-oldest post. At the bottom of that page would be a link to April, and so on.

Part of this was because of Movable Type’s static nature. Pages weren’t built on the fly. If page 2 had posts 21-40, page 3, 41-60, and so on, whenever you made a new post, every one of those would have to be rebuilt to shift down one post, which is cumbersome. Once a month is over, you’ll typically never need to rebuild its page. But also, “Page 2” is a fairly valueless place. It’s constantly changing. No one is ever going to link to it. If, however, a particular site had a really good series of articles one month, “Posts from April ’18” might be something you’d bookmark (though ideally that author would have tagged that series and you could link to that tag’s archive page).

All of this to say, I think most sites are doing pagination wrong. I was proud of my clever little approach but I never really saw anyone else do it.

Lastly, I do not like sites that do infinite scrolling. Clicking a link to load a second page isn’t very hard. Scrolling around a very long page on a mobile device can be maddening.