A skeleton screen is essentially a blank version of a page into which information is gradually loaded.
Luke Wroblewski introduced Skeleton Screens in 2013 through his work on the Polar app, later acquired by Google. I also wrote a short write-up on Facilitating Better Interactions Using Skeleton Screens last year by applying it to mobile apps.
Following Luke's work and Medium's implementation of skeleton screens for images, Linked In implemented it roughly a year ago. The Linked In team picked few pages/screens for this implementation.
The skeleton screen on the mobile web appears as shown in the screenshot above. The content appears to load in a gradually revealing fashion. It looks neat and clean.
So, What Went Wrong with Linked In Implementation?
Let us consider Notifications screen on Linked In, accessed over a mobile device. There are many additional elements on the actual screen, compared to the number of elements on the skeleton screen. For example, the carousel section, time component and ‘Send InMail’ button are not present in the skeleton screen. The user looks for a 1:1 content mapping which is missing in this case, hence leading to greater confusion.
Can This Be Fixed?
As you might notice, a natural mapping is missing in the Notifications screen.
Mapping is a technical term meaning the relationship between two things.
Consider the steering wheel in a car. To turn the car to the right, one turns the steering wheel clockwise (so that its top moves to the right). The mapping is easily learned and always remembered.
Natural mapping takes advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards (Another example - red traffic light means stop; green means go). The human mind is trained for natural mapping. As a result, products, in general, should exploit natural mapping to design enchanted experiences.
Skeleton screens need a worthy implementation. When poorly done, users are put off by the experience rather than feeling joyful about it.
How do you want your users to feel?