The Backlash Against Google AMP Is Gathering Pace

The Backlash Against Google AMP Is Gathering Pace

Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP) is surprisingly successful. Or at least, its success is surprising to web developers and publishers who don’t find the core concept compelling. AMP has been embraced by major publishers and thousands of smaller sites, but AMP-enthusiasm isn’t universal. A growing contingent of bloggers, developers, and publishers are vocally hostile.

The web is slow, and it’s slow because site owners are motivated to cram web pages with tracking scripts, adverts, and superfluous features. AMP offers a solution: a strictly limited subset of HTML and JavaScript that publishers can use to build a parallel web of very fast pages. Google takes those minimal pages and uses its vast infrastructure to serve them. The resulting pages are blazingly fast, which no one objects to, but there are trade-offs to using AMP.

One of the major objections to AMP is that it breaks the peer-to-peer model of the web. Rather than a network of sites hosted on decentralized infrastructure connected by links, AMP pages are cached, processed, and served from infrastructure owned by a single company: Google. Although it’s possible to circumvent AMP and load the original content, in most cases, people visiting an AMP-enabled page will be served content from Google’s servers. That makes some writers deeply uncomfortable. The web is supposed to be open and distributed, with no single entity having the balance of control. As Daniel Miessler puts it:

“If this were to become widely adopted, you’d search for something, get results, consume the content, and you’d never leave Google … We’re talking about an all-powerful ad company that’s looking to explicitly break the peer-to-peer model between creator and consumer.”

A related objection points out that AMP disassociates content from publisher. When everything is served from Google’s URLs, there’s a leveling effect. That works fine for Google, which cares more about its algorithmic assessment of content than the credibility and reputation of the sources of content, but it puts serious publishers and writers on the same level as crackpots and clickbait content farms. Everything comes from Google, and the credibility of individual organizations and writers counts for little:

“Anybody can cram an illegitimate idea into a web page and – so long as it’s encoded as AMP content – it’ll look like it’s from a legit news organization endorsed by Google. Because everything in AMP looks the same. Content shown in Google’s AMP view is stripped of all branding as if the content were from a legitimate news agency. There’s a not so subtle message behind this lack of branding: it’s that the source of information doesn’t matter so long as Google got you there.”

A lesser, but still pertinent objection is that AMP simply isn’t implemented very well. It breaks expected interactions on some devices, most notably on iOS. That’s to be expected when the majority of web pages are served by a company that has a different idea of how web pages should behave than the creator of the platform on which the content is viewed.

Finally, is AMP really necessary? Websites perform poorly because they’re heavier than they need to be — a conscious decision by publishers. AMP strips away all but the components that are essential to serve the content (and advertising). To many, the obvious question is this: why don’t publishers remove everything that AMP removes themselves? A well-optimized web page served over a traditional content distribution network is just as fast as AMP, and in some cases faster.

Everybody wants a lighter, faster web, but do publishers really need to cede control of their content to get that? Given the enormous uptake of AMP, the answer may well be yes. What do you think? Is AMP the future of the web?

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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