If you're using your mouse's scroll wheel to scroll down this page, you're doing it wrong. Or at least, that's what the guy who created it says.
In an interview with IGN, Jack McCauley, a co-founder at Oculus who claims to have invented the scroll wheel, said that the ubiquitous feature is "not used in the way that I intended it to be used." He said that the scroll wheel was designed to let users interact in new ways with their computers and move along the X and Y axis. He had hoped scroll wheels would be used to get users to "go forward into an application," he told IGN.
The scroll wheel has proven to be an invaluable asset on the mouse, making it easy for users to get up and down a page. Clicking the scroll wheel on some mice will even open new links in a browser, among other features. However, it's never been used in the way McCauley envisioned.
It appears based on McCauley's comments that he had hoped the scroll wheel would be used as a way to move through digital space. So, moving the scroll wheel in one direction would allow folks to, say, move a game character forward in a video game. Rolling it back would cause the character to move around.
Whether that feature would ultimately deliver as much value as a simple scroll is unknown. And at this point, it's unlikely he'll get his wish.
There also appears to be some debate over the history of the scroll wheel. While McCauley says he invented the technology, the scroll wheel page on Wikipedia suggests it was developed in a simpler capacity in 1985. The listing says the scroll wheel became ever more popular in the mid-1990s when it was bundled with the Microsoft IntelliMouse, which was designed based on concepts from Eric Michelman, who has his own Wikipedia listing saying he was the inventor of the scroll wheel. Michelman's goal was to get to places on an Excel page more quickly and thought about adding a "zoom-lever" to a mouse.
Regardless, the scroll wheel has become a critical component in any computing experience, and has served as a handy feature for many of us who sit at computers all day.
But if anything is certain, it's that scrolling was not necessarily the only idea for it as the feature was being dreamed up.