I resent AMP

ampFirstly, the bog-standard explanation of AMP:

  • What’s it stand for?
    It stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages,
  • And what’s that?
    It is basically another web ‘standard’
  • …comprising of?
    A limited version of HTML that results in really lean pages that load faster (basically for mobile) and – perhaps more importantly – don’t contain as much crap as normal web pages.
  • And I should care because?
    Google are pushing the technology as a way the “open web” of normal websites can easily produce content that is kind of like the way that Facebook and Apple have built publisher platforms that sit exclusively within their ecosytems.
  • So what does that mean to a regular schmo?
    You’ve probably seen results like the accompanying screenshot at the top of this post if you’ve used Google on mobile in the last year or so.
  • I sense you are ambivalent at best about this?
    Yup. And now I’d like to tell you why.

It’s Yet Another Web “Standard” That is Anything But

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are no such things as web standards. Not by the properly-accepted definition of the term anyway.

For historic and practical reasons browsers are extremely forgiving about what they will render. Properly done, HTML would always have been a subset of XML and thus would have broken when written incorrectly. Missing a closing tag? “This page cannot be displayed.” Of course, this doesn’t happen, because in the nascent days of the web, every other page was hand-coded or written in something like Geocities editor, so if you wanted people to use your browser it had to be capable of interpreting the resulting code-soup as best as it could, otherwise no one using it would be able to read pretty much anything on the internet at all.

Secondly, most alleged web standards are weak. You only have to look at the 5 year box model wars (which are probably still being fought somewhere) to realise that the “standards” are open to different interpretations.

All this holds true for other alleged standards such as Schema, which I have also pontificated boringly about before.

So partly, my response is simply a yawn of boredom. I’ve been building web pages for getting on for two decades now and every year someone wants you to adopt some new standard for some tedious reason that ultimately is about making them money ahead of you.

In this case the justification is to create fast, lean mobile pages. But you know what: we already are. And if you’re not? Google penalises you in the mobile SERPs anyway.

Practical Maintenance

We’re happily in a place where – finally – any halfway decent designer can make a nice responsive page design that renders well on mobile, tablet and desktop through the many various CSS techniques and general level of agreement between browser vendors that happily now exists.

“Write once: display anywhere” is a nice little mantra. But with the advent of AMP, developers are being asked to create two versions of the same page, as seen in the guidelines. Once more, Jo Muggins is given yet another opportunity to unwittingly send her site to SEO oblivion.

amp2

Probably by the time you’re reading this (disclaimer: I haven’t been exactly quick off the mark to talk about this) there’ll be two billion duplicate pages floating around the internet and someone will be forgetting to update the AMP version and break whatever traffic they’re getting from it.

A Further Drift Away from the Point of the Internet

This is more of a moral-philosophical point about the evolving nature of the internet. Facebook are increasingly acting as a publishing platform rather than a social media site. It’s obvious why: you allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to go linking around to any old website on the internet, and you’re leaking visitors. You want them to stay on Facebook where you can monetise them. So naturally, FB have introduced a bunch of stuff that is effectively native publishing. Write your sordid article for your bottom-feeding website, but then republish it on Facebook according to their standards – and for no other purpose at heart than to make Facebook money (of which they generously allow you to keep a cut). This is the “walled garden” of the internet – and the backdrop to the almighty clash of the internet titans as to who controls your eyeballs and so, ultimately, advertising spend.

AMP is similarly pitched by Google – but mainly to keep people on Google and thus away from Facebook. If a story appears only Facebook, then Google might not even be able to access the damn thing, which spells trouble for them.

Hence the urgent desire to get people to publish a version for Google as well. Once again, your run-of-the-mill web manager is having their job role expanded to fulfil the whims of the colossal tech behemoths that run the show. Google push AMP pages to the top of the SERPs, so as per usual the people with the resources necessary to implement it get the benefit and the bit-players sink even further down the food chain. Google will certainly seek to dangle AMP as a mobile ranking factor so SEO guys can hawk it to their clients. But good luck to you trying to get your newly-minted AMP content anywhere past the big publisher sites.

And will it even last? Well the track record on these things isn’t great. The recently announced death of Google Authorship – which was created for similar reasons and created a similar amount of ultimately pointless work. A thousand and one articles are still out there telling webmasters how to leverage it to their advantage when Google killed it last week. Even the mooted problem that AMP is there to fix – fast responsive sites for mobile – is probably going to be swept away with the arrival of 5G inside a couple of years.

Despite all of these forebodings and misgivings, I will of course, be joining the serried ranks to implement AMP, because that is our lives now: doing as Google commands.