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Momentum Scrolling and the Infinite Canvas

by Erik Loyer

The idea of treating a computer screen as a window onto content which exists “beyond” the borders of the frame, as articulated by Scott McCloud in his concept of the "infinite canvas," has been one of the fundamental concepts of user interfaces for decades, from command line-based systems, to the graphical user interface, to the way we interact with content we read online. In a way, the endlessly scrolling pictures of Google Images or Pinterest, or the timeline feeds of Twitter or Facebook, are a kind of partial fulfillment of the infinite canvas idea, as they do feel almost literally infinite. They also share another common ancestry—Apple’s implementation of momentum scrolling, as introduced with the iPhone. Before momentum scrolling, continuous navigation of a document often involved jittery animation, multiple clicks on multiple buttons, and very little in the way of precise control over speed. The multi-touch screen and the iPhone’s OS combined one-to-one motion with some simple simulated physics, and the result was extremely potent—so much so that Apple quickly brought the effect back to their desktop machines, where momentum scrolling soon proved significant in the evolution of digital storytelling. Sites designed for momentum scrolling might seem at first to be purely about space—moving content fluidly through screen. But works like Stevan Živadinović's "Hobo Lobo of Hamelin" don’t just push a flat document through a window. These pages are changing, sometimes in unpredictable ways, as they are scrolled. The user’s interaction on one axis is driving change in multiple dimensions, animating not just space, but also time.

Excerpt from Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

The first page of Stevan Živadinović's infinite-canvas parallax web comic.

from Hobo Lobo of Hamelin (2011)
Creator: Stevan Živadinović
Posted by Erik Loyer