This is Google’s plan to speed up the mobile web
Google depends almost solely on the open web for most of its revenues, has a vested interest in giving you a fast browsing experience on mobile. Its solution is called AMP (short for Accelerated Mobile Pages), and unlike Apple and Facebook’s walled-garden approach, it is completely open-source
Here's the thing about browsing the web on your mobile: it kind of sucks. Between what passes off as 4G in India and modern websites that are bogged down with tracking scripts and ads, opening web pages on your smartphone is often an exercise in frustration.
Technology companies have been trying to solve this, but in most cases, their solutions are simply to bypass the mobile web entirely. Apple lets media companies publish stories directly to Apple News, a brand new app that it launched with iOS 9, the latest version of its operating system for iPhone and iPad. Facebook's Instant Articles hosts publishers' stories directly within the Facebook app, which means they open instantly when you tap them.
These solutions work, but the implications are dangerous. The Verge's Nilay Patel writes: "Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles are the saddest refutation of the open web revolution possible; they are incompatible proprietary publishing systems entirely under the control of huge corporations."
Enter Google. The company, which depends almost solely on the open web for most of its revenues, has a vested interest in giving you a fast browsing experience on mobile. Its solution is called AMP (short for Accelerated Mobile Pages), and unlike Apple and Facebook's walled-garden approach, it is completely open-source. Anyone can use it to speed up their web pages.
"Mobile is our main focus because web browsing on phones can be a poor experience," says Rudy Galfi, Google's product manager for the AMP project, who spent the last four years building personalised content recommendation experiences in products like Google Now and Google+. "And a lot of content on mobile is soloed away in apps."
Google announced the AMP project in October 2015.
"We want web pages with rich content like video, animations and graphics to work alongside smart ads, and to load instantaneously," wrote the company on a blog.
Under the hood, AMP is essentially a simplified version of HTML, the standard language that all web pages are built in. Web developers can build their web pages in AMP and maintain control over how their pages look using Google-provided tools. Publishers essentially create two versions of their web pages - one in standard HTML that serves desktops and tablets, and another one written in AMP-HTML that is stored in a Google cache and pushed out instantaneously to a mobile browser or a third-party app that supports AMP (Twitter does, and so do Pinterest and Nuzzel).
The result is kind of mind-blowing. Google isn't saying when it will officially roll out AMP (a company spokesperson simply said "shortly"), but you can try out a demo by going to g.co/amp on your mobile. Search for something and tap on one of those stories in the carousel with a lightning-bolt symbol on them. See how fast they load?
"Speed is really important," says Galfi. "We found that 40% of people who browse the web on their phones abandon any website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load."
More importantly, AMP supports most existing ad-tech and analytics solutions including Parsley, Chartbeat, Adobe Analytics, and Google's on Google Analytics among others.
So, will Google rank AMP-pages higher than others in its search results? "We have more than 200 signals that we use to rank search results, but AMP on its own is not a signal - except for the carousel that is on top of the search results," says Galfi.
But therein lays the rub. If users find what they're looking for right in the carousel, it is unlikely that they will scroll down the list of search results on the page. So any web page that doesn't support AMP will lose out in any case. "Well, we always want to give you what you're looking for right at the top," admits Galfi. "So if the carousel provides the best answer, then yes, users may not scroll down. But I can't make predictions about user behaviour."
The list of publishers who have already indicated their support for AMP is long and includes the likes of Vox Media, The Washington Post, Buzzed, Mashable, BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Economist, and The Wall Street Journal among others.
In India, Google's launch partners include Hindustan Times, India Today, NDTV, and FirstPost. But Galfi says the AMP format is incredibly flexible, "so even if it's only news organisations today, it's possible that you will see all kinds of content using AMP in the future".
A lightning fast mobile web experience? Who wouldn't want that?