Then I listened to a great interview on This Week in Google with Richard Gingras, Head of News at Google, that made it clear AMP is more than just another forward looking initiative from Google. Much more.
What is AMP? AMP is two things. AMP is a restricted subset of HTML designed to make the web fast on mobile devices. AMP is also a strategy to counter an existential threat to Google: the mobile web is in trouble and if the mobile web is in trouble then Google is in trouble.
In the interview Richard says (approximately):
The alternative [to a strong vibrant community around AMP] is devastating. We don’t want to see a decline in the viability of the mobile web. We don’t want to see poor experiences on the mobile web propel users into proprietary platforms.
This point, or something very like it, is repeated many times during the interview. With ad blocker usage on the rise there’s a palpable sense of urgency to do something. So Google stepped up and took leadership in creating AMP when no one else was doing anything that aligned with the principles of the free and open web.
The irony for Google is that advertising helped break the web. We have fouled our own nest.
Why now? Web pages are routinely between 2MB and 10 MB in size for only 80K worth of content. The blimpification of web pages comes from two general sources: beautification and advertising. Lots of code and media are used to make the experience of content more compelling. Lots of code and media are used in advertising.
The result: web pages have become very very slow. And a slow web is a dead web, especially in the parts of the world without fast or cheap mobile networks, which is much of the world. For many of these people the Internet consists of their social network, not the World Wide Web, and that’s not a good outcome for lots of people, including Google. So AMP wants to make people fall in love with the web again by speeding it up using a simple, cachable, and open format.
Does AMP work? Pinterest found AMP pages load four times faster and use eight times less data than traditional mobile-optimized pages. So, yes.
Is AMP being adopted? Seems like it. Some of those on board are: WordPress, Nuzzle, LinkedIn, Twitter. Fox News, The WSJ, The NYT, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, BBC, The Economist, FT, Vox Media, LINE, Viber, and Tango, comScore, Chartbeat, Google Analytics, Parse.ly, Network18, and many more. Content publishers clearly see value in the survival of the web. Developers like AMP too. There are over 4500 developers on the AMP GitHub project.
When will AMP start? Google will reportedly send traffic to AMP pages in Google Search starting in late February, 2016.
Will Google advantage AMP in search results? Not directly says Google, but since faster sites rank better, AMP will implicitly rank higher compared to heavier weight content. We may have a two tiered web: the fast AMP based web and the slow bloated traditional web. Non AMP pages can still be made fast of course, but all of human history argues against it.
The AMP talk featured a well balanced panel representing a wide variety of interests. Leo Laporte, famous host and founder of TWiT, represents the small content publisher. He views AMP with a generally positive yet skeptical eye. AMP is open source, but it is still controlled by Google, so is the web still the open web? Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor and a long time innovative thinker on how journalism can stay alive in the modern era. Jeff helped inspire the idea of AMP and sees AMP as a way publishers can distribute content to users on whatever form of media users are consuming. Kevin Marks is as good a representative for the free and open web as you could ask for. Matt Cutts as a very early employee at Google is of course pro Google, but he’s also represents an engineering perspective. Richard Gingras is the driving force behind AMP at Google. He’s also a compelling evangelist for AMP and the need for a true new Web 2.0.
Here’s a gloss of the discussion. I’m not attributing who said what, just the outstanding points that help reveal AMP’s vision for the future of the open web: