Google AMP: Moving Web Pages Toward the Future by Setting it Back a Decade

Google’s AMP Moving Web Page Toward the Future by Setting It Back A Decade

One of the main reasons why the internet experienced such an exponential growth in the last decade is Apple’s monumental launch of the iPhone way back in 2007. Moving away from the relatively tiny screens and the iconic QWERTY keyboards of the then-leading BlackBerries, the iPhone revolutionized smartphone interfaces as we know it using a multi-touch screen with a high screen-to-body ration, which was quickly followed by phones using Google’s Android OS and later, by Nokia’s line of Windows Phones. iOS’ generous screen real-estate and gesture-based navigation was the closest thing we have to a future filled with Star Trek-esque gizmos and even though it wasn’t until a year later that 3G connectivity arrived on everyone’s favorite new toy, iPhone turned the mobile world on its head by making voice traffic obsolete and continually raising data usage. Close to a decade later, in 2015 to be exact, Google sought to further upend the world of mobile internet by introducing the Accelerated Mobile Pages framework or AMP for short, leaving the decisions on publishers or web developers whether to go along or not.

As its self-explanatory name proclaims, AMP is an initiative spearheaded by Google with aims on making contents easily accessible on mobile by giving web pages an injection of Flash’s Speed Force. Have you ever been annoyed when after reading a tweet from your friends telling you of this interesting longform article they read you are inevitably greeted by a never-ending loading circle when you clicked on that link? The idea is to make webpages as fast and as accessible as other examples of ‘instant articles’ i.e. those you’re likely to find in Apple News or Facebook. So far, it sounds all well and good; I mean why in the world wouldn’t you want a faster internet? But alas, all magic comes with a price.

Now, without getting unbearably technical, it’s the way Google is implementing AMP that’s the issue here. You see, the internet still has to obey basic laws of physics. If a website usually loads in 1 second, web developers can’t just magically make it load in 0.1 second without taking anything away, which is what AMP does. I described AMP as giving websites an injection of the Speed Force, which was intentionally misleading, because what the AMP does is to require your web to be stripped down into a skeleton and render its content in a particular subset of HTML that Google approves along with a few tags made for AMP.

Simplify, then add lightness.

In the world of automotive, there are two ways of making a car go faster. You can go the Colin Chapman route of stripping unnecessary things off of your car and make it lighter, or go the Bugatti method of stuffing an 8.0L engine equipped with four turbochargers into the back of your car to achieve +250 mph top speeds. Either make web pages simpler, thereby rendering the internet to look as ancient as this 1996’s relic of Bob Dole’s campaign website shows, or somehow make mobile network considerably faster. Obviously, Google has no way of making the latter happen, so they went ahead with the former.

To use AMP, Google requires web developers to create an alternative version of your site that conforms to the strict regulations of the AMP project. As the standards itself are a variation of HTML, but pared down to its barest minimum, most JavaScript are forbidden. No matter where your personal opinions lie on JavaScript and its prevalence in most web pages, they do add a lot of functionality to a simple website and are used to a considerable degree on a lot of web apps across the internet, like Spotify. Google AMP will basically undo all of that, inherently rendering every development in web pages made in the last decade useless, not to mention that it would certainly make your site looks depressingly dreary. Any site that conforms to these specifications gets VIP treatment from Google, which brings with itself a set of problems.

No privileged order ever did see the wrongs of its victims

On the result of a mobile Google search, stories and articles that conform to AMP’s specification have a little lightning icon and the word AMP next to its when the story was posted. In addition, AMP-conforming pages get top billing on a carousel in Google’s search results, which is great for publishers who took their time to adopt this standard but with one major caveat. If a reader decides to share the link for your AMP page they found from a search results, the link points to Google instead of the actual source. Why? Because one of the reasons an AMP page loads so quickly is that because it can be served from any caching server, in this case, Google’s AMP cache servers. Historically, a search engine simply acts as a MapQuest but with AMP, Google is taking steps to stockpile contents on its own servers and keeping users inside Google’s ecosystem, no different than what Apple has done for decades.

Those two reasons combined above, basically surrendering your own content to Google and Google giving preferential bias to publishers willing to adopt to its standards could easily be taken as Google strong-arming content creators into its ecosystem. It’s alarming when done by any other company but when it’s a stance adopted by a company whose search engine has a market share of 90%, it is downright dangerous. Even for a business of considerable size, it would still be a monumental risk to be on the opposite side of a company with such pull in the internet, let alone for small companies. A lot of web developers, in particular has taken a strong stance against Google thanks to this. If you’re still keen on relying on AMP pages to boost your visibility on Google’s SERP, then by all means do so, but keep in mind just how much you’re giving up to a company that has, in all practicality, monopolize the internet, if you ever decide to do so.