What should we make of Google AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)?
The Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, or AMP for short, is considered to be Google’s answer to Facebook’s Instant Article format. Free and open-source, this framework seeks to enable faster-loading pages for mobile devices. The incentive for publishers to actually use AMP is Google’s promise that faster-loading content will appear at the top of its results list. So far so good.
More specifically, AMP is a restrictive framework for dynamic delivery models. Google hasn’t broken any new ground: for faster loading, just restrict content for loading.
Advertising can only be displayed in amp-ad tags and only if it comes from preselected networks, like Google AdSense. This of course will make the work of ad blockers that much easier.
The biggest winners of AMP are users. Cleaner, mostly ad- and tracker-free pages are more pleasant to look at and much faster to load. Chances are that users will load that many more pages on an AMP site, just like on a traditional, well-designed and optimized mobile site.
Facebook Instant Article, Google AMP, Apple News, and who knows what’s next… that’s a lot of different formats for a marginal cost-benefit ratio.
Regarding Google’s format specifically, it’s really not that hard to create dedicated pages for mobile devices with HTML/CSS that are just as fast as AMP, if not faster. Which begs the question: was it really necessary to create a non-standard HTML sub-set to be efficient on mobile platforms? Unless the real intent is to throttle content and deprive publishers of some of their freedom to decide on the way their articles are displayed, and the way they generate revenues.
The proliferation of these more-or-less proprietary formats will also make life difficult for publishers. Rather than creating a single mobile version, publishers will have to create a different version for each platform, under pain of being penalized with lower placement on the results list. Of course, Google, through Dave Besbris, the VP in charge of the AMP project, denies any such intent, asserting that Google will not give AMP pages preferential treatment. Which makes us wonder where their interest lies. In any case, the facts belie Besbris: AMP pages are indeed given preferential treatment in Google Search, with carousel presentation for press sites: quite the exception. On Facebook, the situation is just as murky.
So, to sum up: normal Web version, adaptive Tablet version, Facebook version, Google version and, if you are a press publisher, Apple version… the development and maintenance costs quickly add up. And this flies in the face of the promise of an open, accessible and interoperable Web: each page accessible to all, regardless of hardware, access network, operating system, browser, etc. Instead of improving the mobile experience for all, we’re fragmenting the Web into subsets: traditional, Google, Facebook…
Hard to capitalize on
AMP pages currently generate little traffic. Two publishers who offer AMP-formatted pages, Slate and The Atlantic, say these account for less than 4% of total traffic. Hard to sell these pages to advertisers, especially since AMP authorizes very few advertising formats and chances are that the framework will indefinitely preclude pop-ups and other interstitial formats that are particularly popular with advertisers.
Reason for concern
The Google ecosystem is littered with dead projects. It is entirely possible that Google will eventually stop actively supporting AMP, which would signal the beginning of its slow and inexorable death. Remember, the main incentive for publishers to use AMP is to appear at the top of Google Search results. Without the active support of Google (who, in practice, does give AMP pages preferential treatment), the format would lose most of its charm for content producers.