Pagination and Page-View Juicing are Evil

You’ve seen it a thousand times. You’re reading a great article on the web, you get to the bottom of the page, and there it is:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next >

The pagination tattoo. The mark of the beast.

Over the last several years, many publishers have convinced themselves that breaking up stories into sometimes as many as ten pages is an acceptable way to present content on the web. The realistic ones at least admit that it’s a cheap way to boost stats. The disingenuous (or naive) ones actually posit that they are improving readability and usability for their audiences by reducing scrolling. Because scrolling is so hard.

I’ve seen both rationales presented by colleagues, and frankly, I’m not on board with either one. There are really only two instances where I find pagination acceptable, and they both seem rare on today’s web:

  1. If an article is extremely long. Like 20 screens worth. And even then, it should be broken up by “Acts” and not necessarily word count. Break it up as if it were a play and try to never have more than a few Acts.
  2. Slightly related to item 1, even a short piece can be functionally broken up. Imagine a much shorter version of that great Washington Post article about the violinist in the train station. The article has several video clips strewn throughout. Those would be logical places to either start or end each Act.

Instead, what I’m seeing more and more of is ridiculous pagination for the sake of juicing page views. Take for example this article which was seeded sarcastically to Newsvine the other day. It’s from a site called Associated Content. The article is a lousy 1504 words and it’s broken up into four pages! I’ve read cover letters that are longer than that.

How is a reader to endure a user experience like this and feel respected by the publisher? Maybe if I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell, I’ll give the guy a break because I’m so lucky to be reading his masterpieces in the first place, but the fact of the matter is that 99% of content on the web (and in the world) is not stuff we’d bow down to, so we should at least hope to be respected as we’re trading our attention and associated ad revenue for some reasonably entertaining or educational text.

As the founder of a news startup, I’m fully aware of the constant pressure to increase page views month over month, but at some point you have to ask yourself if the page view is your most important metric over time. If you could choose only one of the following — long term — which would you choose: a user who consistently generates 10 page views a day on your site but spends only 5 minutes with you, or a user who literally stares slackjawed at the screen for two hours a day with your site running on it, generating only one page view?

Your accountants will always pick the former, but you should always pick the latter. In the long run, it’s not total HTTP requests that will determine how successful you are. It’s what percentage of any given population’s attention you earn. Don’t blow it by manipulating your readers.

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97 Responses:

  1. spugbrap says:

    I hate partial-text blog RSS feeds as well. I have unsubscribed from several for that reason. I decided that if there’s a particular article that’s noteworthy, I will probably hear about it (with additional commentary) from one of the other bloggers that I read regularly. This doesn’t always happen, but it irritates me to no end to have to click through just to hear the main idea.

    However, if an author is courteous enough to always get to the point right away, so that I can tell quickly if it’s worth my time to click through, I’m not quite as annoyed. I generally won’t click through based on a catchy title alone, so blogs that try to grab my attention with headlines, then include nothing in the feed body except a [more] link, will quickly find their way out of my subscription list.

    It’s also irritating to have partial-text feeds which cut off in mid-sentence. Can’t they at least finish the paragraph, first?!?

    A good feed reader/aggregator should provide enough customization to allow each user to choose how much of each post they want to see, to start with, and then allow reading full content easily, with a click/keyboard shortcut/etc. I think it’s the job of the feed reading software interface to provide this functionality, and when bloggers take that responsibility into their own hands, it makes it even more of a chore to get to the full content.

    Imagine this .. A user sees a headline (and maybe a short snippet) in their feed reader, and presses a key to expand the full article. But, they only get another sentence and a half. They’ve already expressed that they want to read the whole thing, the way they are accustomed to expressing it (pressing a certain key), but now they have to grab the mouse and click a [more] link as well, which most likely opens the full article into another window/tab/etc., taking them away from the user-friendly/consistent interface they are comfortable with.

  2. Gene says:

    The Washington Post very consciously creates more pagination in popular stories. Take a look at their traffic column “Dr. Gridlock” sometime, and you’ll see that they routinely give it twice as many pages as a long form front page article about, say, politics. Because Dr. Gridlock is a Q&A column, one must usually read the question on one page, then go to the next to read the answer. Sometimes you’ll see as many as 2 sentences per page.

    Just as annoying are blogs — especially “corporate” ones — that require the reader to go to a different page to read comments, thus upping the pageviews and reloading ads.
    This is not only annoying, but it has the effect of removing the reader from the continuing narrative of the blog. To read more entries, one has to go back.
    I much prefer having comments appear either in a pop-up window or some kind of Ajax hide/show format. Anything that causes the reader to stop and reload something is evil.

  3. I not only agree…but fall victim to it in an unusual way. I write for a major online publisher, and the name of the game is page views. In fact I’m paid on how many page views I have.

    I’ve never created multiple page articles, but have had my publisher split them up. I personally feel it interrupts the flow of the piece you are writing. But I also don’t entirely blame the publishers. They need to make money and have to keep their shareholders or CFO/CEO’s happy…so they come up with lots of tricks to keep their jobs…it is a lot of pressure…and I don’t envy them.

    And it does drive traffic. I’ve seen them split my articles up and BOOM…it goes from a few thousand page views to 100,000+.

    We’ve gotten so use to free content that we are now victims of our own desire to get something for nothing. But at least one way to bypass this is simply look for the PRINT icon in an article…which pulls all the content into one giant page. Better than nothing.

    Alan

  4. Matt says:

    Tom’s Hardware is a particularly nasty offender of pagination. Most of their reviews have a single paragraph on a page and usually drones on for 20+ pages. I can’t even read reviews there anymore because I just get angry.

  5. John says:

    In general I agree that pagination is annoying, but it’s not always annoying… occasionaly, for certain types of articles, I agree with Raj. One reason, I think, has to do with visual memory. If I’m reading something that’s pretty technical or dense, I sometimes like to go back and reread a previous section to refresh my memory and help understand a later section. If I can remember any specific phrases that were used, I can search for them, and a single page document is better. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t have any specific search terms in mind, in which case multiple pages help me remember where to look for a particular part of the article.

    For example, in a 10 page document, I might be on page 7 and decide I need to reread something that I remember being roughly a third of the way down page 4. If it was all on a single page, then I’d have to remember that the relevant passage was roughly 43% of the way down the scrollbar, which is a lot harder to find quickly than 1/3 of the way down on the page that says “4”.

    This is somewhat related to a frustration I have with audiobooks (of which I consume plenty due to a long commute). If I’m reading a print book and want to reread some passage or show it to someone else, my visual memory is usually pretty good at helping me find it quickly: I can often remember whether it was on a left or right facing page, near top or bottom, etc., as well as roughly where in the book it occurred. With an audiobook, however, my only means of navigation is scrolling, so “roughly where in the book” is all I have to go on, and its much harder to find a previously read (well, listened to) passage. I know, that’s a tangent and not nearly the same thing as pagination in web articles, but still, the feeling of frustration is similar. I hate trying to find something I remember reading by scrolling up and down through a really long page, I’d rather click to different pages, my brain is better at finding things that way.

  6. Geoff Airey says:

    I believe it’s a way to control what the user sees with the content.

    With Ads at the top of the page, seems to me that it’s a way to keep them in focus with the reader. Once you get past the first full page of scroll the ads disappear.

  7. Mike: >>Robert: I do anywhere from 125,000 to 150,000 unique visitors a month here so I’m fine on traffic.

    Congrats on that. Over on Microsoft we had 4.3 million uniques a month. Over on my blog, according to WordPress.com, I’m getting 30,000 HTML uniques a day and more than 100,000 RSS subscribers a day.

    People who are on my link blog say a link there is worth some nice traffic too (and influential traffic, a TON of people inside Google and other big companies subscribe).

    But, if you don’t want more traffic and are happy with what you’ve got, I’m not going to argue with you. Partial text feeds are a great way to ensure that.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Robert: Yeah, I figure that if I write anything that is truly of interest to you, you’ll probably find out about it from secondary sources, as you have over 600 of them. Problem is, I only write a few posts per month so the opportunities would be few and far between.

    For the hour or so per week I put into Mike Industries, I’m definitely happy with the traffic and linkage I get. This blog is not a profession for me… it’s just a way of experimenting with the medium and connecting with community. As it stands right now, my RSS feed is a notification mechanism for my blog. That could easily change in the future, but that’s the way it is right now. The blog is the primary medium.

  9. Karl G says:

    The only site where I’ve been happy with the pagination is Ars Technica where I get 4-5 screens of text before I hit a new page and the split is by section.

  10. TDavid says:

    I, too, really dislike pagination for articles. It’s a clear money grab in 99% of the cases. Modem users would rather wait a little extra time for the full article to load then be shuttled off to four other pages for a 1,500 word article (or worse, to a PDF file!)

    Ironic perhpas, but would also add that sites like Digg and to a lesser extent Newsvine often require multiple steps to get to the original source of a story. This is a bummer too, Mike.

    I realize many blogs are like this too, but it’s even worse when a site like Digg links to a blog that links to another blog that links to the source story. And worse yet when some don’t even link the original source of a story so you have to hit Google to find the source.

    Take for example your Newsvine page, Mike: http://mike.newsvine.com/ — you end up there, read a few sentences and then it is “continue onto the main story.” If you are sourcing another story then it’s another click.

    I’m not rigid about full feeds for others but for myself since day one at my main blog (almost four years old now) I’ve run full feeds. I don’t believe any of the blogs I contribute to use partial feeds any more either.

    A few switched from partial to full and never looked back. Who knows Mike, you switch to full and maybe double or triple your readership over time (a lot of the type of people you would like to read your blog do prefer full feeds) … might at least be worth the experiment :)

    Good post.

    (oh btw, your blog doesn’t accept email addresses with + in them, might want to fix that: e.g. mike+newsvine@blahblah.com)

  11. dd says:

    it needs those site improve usability, at same time we needs way to avoid inconvenience by making userscript specific for those site, for example there are greasemonkey userscript GoogleAutoPager or Pagerization for google serp page.
    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/7623

  12. I’ll echo Ars Technica making good use of pagination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other good use for it. I can’t imagine what an article would look like all on one page there. I won’t buy the argument that someone gave it it allowing easy linking to sections, though, as you can “permalink” main headings, or every heading.

    I do agree on feeds being different from the site itself. I actually don’t like partial feeds myself, but know people who do like them for various reasons. The feed reader program called Akregator gets it right: there’s an option to either 1) view the feed, or 2) view the page of the feed. For mikeindustries.com, I have it load the page rather than the feed, allow the best of all worlds: I know when the site is updated, I view the web page post, and I don’t have an extra click to view said page.

  13. Emma says:

    Have a look at this;

    http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=3036052&page=1&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312

    the second and third pages and just a couple of paragraphs each, how much does that make your blood boil?

    ;o)

  14. Isaac Lin says:

    Regarding pagination being a recent phenomenon, and picking an example close to home, hasn’t ESPN.com been using pagination for quite some time? As mentioned in the comments, the New York Times is a long time user, and dpreview.com’s reviews also consist of multiple pages — quite justifiably in this case, I believe, due to the length of each page. I can also think of various feature articles where it makes sense to separate the article into multiple pages.

    (The irony for me is that although separating long articles into multiple pages improves its on-screen browsability, I dislike reading anything too long on screen, and so will generally print it to read — which is much easier if the article is just one long page!)

  15. Mike D. says:

    TDavid: Actually, if you click the little grey arrow next to external headlines on Newsvine, you go right to the story. No extra clicks necessary. Thanks for the heads-up on the plus signs in e-mail addresses. Will try and fix that right now.

    Christopher: Now that IS a great solution! I might have to try Akregator out.

    Emma: Yes, ABCNews is one of the worst offenders. You can imagine my dismay while working on that site and having no say about it.

    Isaac: Nope, ESPN started doing it towards the end of my employment there. I’m going to say 3 or so years ago. And as with ABCNews, you can imagine my further dismay. :)

  16. Ali Reid says:

    This Scoble guy is a funny one. Why don’t you PM Mike instead of swinging your genitals in a public forum, where it’s not welcome?

    Do you really require that people grovel at your feet for your on-paper-influence? Your numbers are of no interest to me. Truly influential people don’t need an army of yes-men. Quit looking for them.

  17. Peter000 says:

    Geez this blog entry is long. I wish he would have broken it up so I didn’t have to do all that damn scrolling. I kept losing my place.

  18. Mike D. says:

    Ali: Haha, yeah. One thing people should never lose sight of is that unless you’re desperate for attention, “bad” traffic is often worse than “no” traffic. Maybe not if your blog is a full-time job, but if it’s a hobby like most people’s blogs are, then definitely. It’s weird just how quickly you can tell if you’ve been “dugg”. You don’t even need to check your stats app. You just start to see like 10 imbecilic comments in the span of a half hour or so and then you realize these visitors came en masse from somewhere else. I really only want people here who either a) enjoy reading this stuff, or b) have interesting things to say. Preferably both. Going about one’s normal business seems to accomplish that task just fine.

  19. Matt Snow says:

    I totally agree. Please just let me hit the space bar to scroll my own page, thank you, instead of forcing me to find your pagination navigation.

    I am an Art Director at Adobe, and recently redesigned one of our online newsletters. The articles used to be 3-4 pages, but I changed them to be one long page. IMO, much easier to read.

    You can compare the redesign here: http://www.adobe.com/newsletters/edge/march2007/articles/article4/

    with any article from the old version: http://www.adobe.com/newsletters/edge/march2006/

  20. It’s a shame when the cost of providing a service conflicts with how that service can be provided, but CPM and eCPM is still king for publishers and advertisers, and until advertisers dare commit to another metric we’re stuck with paginated articles.

    If a publisher does not have a financial motive for paginating and they still are out of some habit, well, that’s just silly.

  21. Maria says:

    Great article.

    I read hundreds of books and magazines a year. I’m also a graphic designer, so my industry is centered around words and images. But when I arrive at a site with ridiculous page divisions (one or two paragraphs and then a jump), 99% of the time, I close it.

    The parallel would be for me if I purchased a book where every other page was stuck together with glue, and I had to manually use an Exacto to separate them. I would find that very annoying no matter how interesting the content is.

    “Don’t Make Me Think” discusses barriers to entry and engagement….I think Steve Krug could add a whole chapter on “Don’t Make Me Click Unnecessarily.”

    MediaWeek had a discussion about this earlier this month. I already tossed that issue, but the jist was that advertisers are starting to get jumpy about supposed page views and want more accountability with how many impressions (and especially, happy/receptive impressions) they’re getting.

  22. “The disingenuous (or naive) ones actually posit that they are improving readability and usability for their audiences by reducing scrolling. Because scrolling is so hard.”

    You’ve missed one major point. Small pages increase perception of FAST page load. Time after time fast pages have proven to attract users.

    Just ask google.

    Kevin

  23. Mike D. says:

    Kevin: That point is not lost on me at all. I simply don’t buy that reducing the amount of text on a page has much to do with load time at all. HTML runs about 10k per 2000 words, gzipped that’s about 1k per 2000 words. So a whopping 10,000 word essay (long!) runs about 5k or 10k depending on how long the words are and whether or not there’s crufty markup in there. Pure words do not bloat pages is what I’m saying.

  24. Aren’t there other reasons for Pagination? I work for a college, and IMO opinion incoming students need to be lead toward a goal. Pagiantion can be helpful in guiding a student through a process like applying for financial aid or registering for a class. But of course it has to make sense. not just based on a word count. Advertising isn’t an issue for us.

    Sometimes you have to look at the audience in conjunction with the content.

    Also, I prefer titles to numbers for page links. We don’t use it for every article we post, just where it makes sense. Our article tool at least gives us the option of pagination or one long article.

  25. Mike D. says:

    Thomas: Yes, definitely. That falls into the category of paginating by “Acts”. So for a college admission site, the acts could be “Learn, Apply, Followup, etc”… or even by numbers “Step 1, Step 2, Step 3” if you are trying to break up *actions* required by the user into digestable segments. For articles though, rarely are any actions necessary.

  26. Maybe, but long articles are easier to read if there are pages for another reason. For example say the article was a legit 8-10 pages printed. Because reading a webpage is different than reading printed material (time factors, eyestrain, etc.) breaking up the content into chunks THAT MAKE SENSE can be a good thing. Now that we are seeing bookmark services pop up, you could be reading an article in the airport at a public kiosk (if you are into paying for that sort of thing) or an internet cafe, get to a stopping point, say the end of a page, and bookmark the next page. then you finish the article at your leisure.

    Now, breaking up an article because you filled a paragraph, yeah, I disagree with that.

  27. Richard G says:

    If I’m reading a really good article, I’ll keep following that next button to the end. If it’s a crap article, I’ll surf away after the first page or two. Seems to me that paginating an article lets the editor or publisher tell which articles are being read and which are not – certainly good feedback. Clicking a next button’s not much more effort than clicking the scroll bar or hitting page down.

  28. and then you have to wait all over again for it to load…

    no thank you

  29. Kirby L. Wallace says:

    Right there with ya, man. These days, if I have to go to just about any news site, the first thng I do is disable browser script (kill flash and other annoying distractions), and when I get to an article, I don’t even bother trying to read it without first looking for the “Print This Article.” Whenever possible, I do my online reading with the “Print Version” of the article.

    Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING annoys me more than trying to read something with some damned annoying flashing, blinking, jumping thing going on in the corner of my eye. “Oooh! Oooh! Lookie. Over here… Oooh! “

    Well, maybe what’s worse is having to click through 6 pages of this stuff.

  30. adam says:

    scrolling is so hard, even though most (if not all?) mice nowadays have “scroll wheels” on them :P

    I mean…unless you get the $10 close-out deal from Big Lots or something…

  31. Stephen says:

    Scoble seems mightily out of order for his ‘mine is better than yours’ attitude. I’ve never even read his blog (although I have heard of him) and probably won’t even bother now. Who cares how many views this guy gets. If he’s as arrogant as his comments suggest, I’m not missing a thing.

    As far as parital feeds and pagination go, the two are linked together – although the bigger evil is pagination. Both relate to time spent online, however, and the solution to both is to keep the end user in control. For pagination a clear link to a full-page option at the top and bottom of the article works wonders for me. For feeds, I’d like the ability when I register on a blog to choose if I want to recieve full or partial feeds.

    Nice article and great views by all the commentors. This peice really give a rounded idea of pagination and falls in wonderfully with Nielsons, information scent article, that a person can hunt all day for information on something and then stumble across a single source that has it all.

    Thanks alot
    Stephen

  32. […] despicable practices such as “maximizing pageviews” to increase ad inventory. This is evil, and if you or your boss insists on measuring success in pageviews, you need to take a deep, hard, […]

  33. Atmosk says:

    Great article, but you could probably improve the layout of this page by adding a navigation tool bar towards the bottom. That way there wouldn’t be so much information on one page and you could split it up improving the readability of the article. Just a thought.

  34. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: Did you even read the article? Or are you being sarcastic…

  35. Atmosk says:

    no no…. I read it I just think that the page layout could be improved by splitting it up into a few different pages. You know improve the flow a little. Just some constructive criticism thats all.

  36. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: The entire post is less than 600 words long. It’s only one screen tall on a standard iMac monitor. Less than two screens on a laptop. What you’re suggesting is exactly what I’m denouncing in this post. Breaking up articles (especially incredibly short articles like this one) into multiple pages does not improve the flow at all… it retards it. Hitting your spacebar to scroll down is a lot easier than repeatedly locating a Next Page link and then moving your mouse to it and then re-scrolling to the top of the article text of whatever page you’re on.

  37. Greg says:

    I only read the first few paragraphs of this. I needed a page break to give me a pause. I can’t do without them…

  38. Atmosk says:

    I am not trying to contradict your article… It is just some constructive criticism. If nothing else you should provide a short synopsis of the article and have a “read on” link. This would improve the flow of your website and entice more people to read your article.

  39. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: Ok, well in that case we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I think splitting up a tiny 600 word article into multiple pages is insulting to the audience… which is essentially the point of this entire article.

  40. Atmosk says:

    Thinking is not to agree or disagree… that is voting. -Robert Frost.
    I am just offering constructive criticism. I don’t understand how a ‘seemingly’ established author such as your self can be so opposed to advancement and overall self betterment.

  41. Mike D. says:

    Atmosk: I’m not opposed to “advancement and overall self betterment” at all. Quite the opposite. I just happen to think your thoughts on pagination are a step backwards, so I — and probably 99% of other blog authors — don’t employ them. That is the beauty of the internet. You can publish one way and I can publish another. And anyone can denounce or support any method they choose to.

  42. Mike says:

    Nice article, I think that some people split up articles because alot of people have slow connections and it takes them a while to load the page. I just put the whole article on one page.

  43. Mike D. says:

    Mike: It may be true that some people convince themselves that that is a good reason, but it isn’t. As mentioned above, the actual article text of a page usually makes up a very small percentage of the load time.

  44. bjarke says:

    imagine google without pagination.. I dont think I want to wait for 1.000.000 results to be rendered on the page :)

  45. iggdawg says:

    I’d like to ad an amen to this. The text in a given article would take a 56k user a moment to download. If it’s them you’re worried about, ease up on the ads and graphics content. I mean, if you’re really worried enough about slow connection users to force everyone to deal with it. I recently installed the Auto Pager firefox extensions, which loads pages-to-be automagically. It’s been awesome having it do the clicking for me. I realize this in essence loads all the pages and all the ads, thereby justifying the pagination… but I’m just so sick of having to deal with stupid website layouts that I’m more concerned with getting my content delivered to me than anything. its not like I click ads anyways.

    I’ll also agree that this is a text only argument. I don’t think anyone would debate that galleries need to be paginated. I just got done totally reworking my image gallery script since my pics/misc folder got to be too much of a beast for a monolithic page.

    Anyways, well written article. I’m glad I’m not the only one that can’t stand this.

  46. I agree with most of what you said, although I do think there is a case for pagination in some cases.

    News Articles should be never

    Technical Articles with multiple stages I can see having them that way you can break the reading up if your learning somthing new and it already has predefined spots to stop.

    But I agree 100% that if all you are doing is trying to juice pages or get more ads its just bad practice.

  47. Zen says:

    This also applies to ‘slideshows’ that are used to paginate content. Stupid stuff like “10 Ways to improve your resume: ” has 14 slides: an introductory slide, the end slide, two ad slides in the middle, then the content- which of course has a title and only two sentences of content.
    It’s not Flash, javascript, or hmtl pagination either, each slide represents an entirely separate page (pageview!).

    (I didn’t read all the comments, but I don’t think this has been mentioned yet. Sorry for the necro, StumbleUpon brought me here)

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