Have a quick look at the Firefox UI heatmap. 95% of people explicitly click and drag the vertical scroll slider to scroll. And they do it a lot – an average of 200 clicks per user.
However, using the vertical scrollbar to scroll a web page sucks.
- It’s a long way from the content area, where the user’s attention should be focussed;
- It’s thin and hard to hit, particularly if the window is not maximised (hands up if you’ve tried to scroll a page and ended up resizing it because it’s a non-maximised window up against the edge of the screen);
- At least on Ubuntu, the colour difference between it and the scrollbar track is minimal, making it hard to see;
- It’s difficult to get consistent speed scrolling because the amount you have to move it is proportional to the size of the page. This can, on very large pages, lead to you entirely losing your place.
With good colour contrast between the bar and track, the scrollbar is a reasonable UI for seeing where you are in a page, but it’s a poor UI for scrolling.
Obviously, I’m not the first person to notice this. First, we had the wheel mouse, and now we have trackpads with dedicated vertical scroll areas (and sometimes horizontal too). And on some systems it’s possible to scroll a page by holding down a modifier key and moving the mouse, although I can’t for the life of me work out how to do it on Ubuntu. (Update half way through writing: this is what the “Use autoscrolling” preference is in the Firefox advanced options. I would certainly not have worked that out from the name – it’s not about automatically scrolling at all! We should fix that.)
And yet, with all these mechanisms available, 95% of people still pull the mouse all the way over to the side of the screen, click and drag.
Do the existing mechanisms suck? And can we do something about this? Making scrolling more pleasant would improve my day immensely. Can we turn ‘autoscrolling’ on by default?