Progress bars while reading — yay or nay?

I’ve recently noticed that a lot of sites are implementing progress bars at the top of their navigation. Here’s an example from Bloomberg:

The blue line animates as you scroll.

Is it just me, or is this super distracting? I asked a friend earlier today, and he agreed — not a fan. I know generally that when you show someone that they’re making progress, they tend to keep going, but at what point is it too much?

Interestingly enough, on Bloomberg’s longer articles they ditch the progress bar. I wonder if this is intentional?

I’d love to see Bloomberg and other publishers’ data on this — I’m sure they didn’t add it for no reason. Maybe it really does get people to read more.

Positive Feedback

This got me thinking: which progress indicators do I actually enjoy?

  • The feeling of a book gradually getting heavier on the left side and lighter on the right
  • Barely noticing the scrollbar as it moves and fades out
  • Flipping through a book to see that I’m 12 pages away from a good stopping point
  • Hovering over a YouTube or Vimeo video to see how much time is left

The thing all these have in common is that they’re invisible until you need them. In my mind, the point of showing a user their progress isn’t to urge them on, it’s to tell them where they are when they want to know.

Otherwise? Out of sight, out of mind. Let the content be the star.

Of course, this is just my personal preference. What do you think?

PS — If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you might be interested to hear about my project to create a new kind of electronic book. Or you can join my mailing list.

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