The typical scenario solved by pagination is to allow the search of a particular entity from a list, by displaying it a chunk at the time. Particularly in web applications, where page size is limited by bandwidth, the maximum amount of items contained in a page is fixed in less than an hundred:
how often do you look to page 2?
I google many times a day, so many that I now use the search bar of firefox instead of loading the homepage and entering the query in the input field. I usually found the first or the second result to be the most reliable resource for the query I entered since Google ranking is legendary: it's Google that decides how popular an article on this website will be and the only thing that competes in popularity with Google ranking is social network one.
Thus, I never went to the 2nd page of a Google search result. I bet you neither have done the same more than once or twice this month, and probably refining your search terms would have put the link you were looking for in the first position of the first page. Since the first link is almost always what you will be clicking some seconds later, Google main page even feature the I'm Feeling Lucky button which does this work for you.
In my opinion, Google pagination is rather useless.
In the early years of the web, pagination was the killer feature: LIMIT clauses for databases were everywhere and calculation of its argument were spread all over an application. This blog, hosted on the Blogger platform, also implements pagination: but do you prefer to scan my archives five posts at the time or to use the search box on the right?
Although all the content is available in a list of pages, a blog is not a book and it is not sequential: articles are often found by visiting a particular label or by a Google result. Honestly I sometimes look to the page 2 or 3 of a blog to form an idea on what content is posted there and decide whether to subscribe to the atom feed, but I think the author would rather have me look to a search on a tag, to a collection of popular posts or to its about page.
What about different kind of lists to paginate? Wikipedia lists are often very long: sometimes pagination is not adopted, like in the link, and the result is a unfocused and difficult to navigate page. But if you refuse to paginate there are other ways to manage this big pack of data:
- showing results on demand a la Dzone: thanks to ajax requests, when an user reaches the end of the list or is at the last items, another chunk is lazy loaded to fill the empty space between the list and the end of the page.
- better search system: as we have discussed earlier, Google does not need pagination since it is the best search system and you'll find your desired result in the first 10 links. Provide a mean to search a big list instead of spitting it all out, leaving the burden on the end-user.
- real time filtering: a dojo grid presents a pagination similar to the Dzone one, but different filters can be attached to modify the query. The result is similar to google suggestion while typing in the text field, as when you add characters to your search string the filtering is performed instantly.
The scroll at the top of the page shows you a continuos source of pages that reminds of pagination sliders where you can go only to the next and previous page. It was very inefficient, but ancient monks did not have Google search capabilities...