A report from the AMP Advisory Committee Meeting

by @edent | # # # # | 11 comments | Read ~5,143 times.

I don't like AMP. I think that Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages are a bad idea, poorly executed, and almost-certainly anti-competitive.

So, I decided to join the AC (Advisory Committee) for AMP. I don't want them surrounded with sycophants and yes-men. A few weeks ago, a bunch of the AC met in London for our first physical meeting after several exploratory video calls.

These are my impressions and highlights of the meeting. You should also read the official minutes to get a more rounded view of the issues.

I am not representing my employer while working on the AC. I do not get paid for being a member - although our host (Akamai) provided refreshments, and another member paid for lunch. These views are mine and mine alone. I will be respecting the Chatham House Rule.

AMP isn't loved by publishers

We heard, several times, that publishers don't like AMP. They feel forced to use it because otherwise they don't get into Google's news carousel - right at the top of the search results.

Some people felt aggrieved that all the hard work they'd done to speed up their sites was for nothing. They felt that they had a competitive advantage against slower publishers. That was destroyed by AMP.

My recommendation is that Google stop requiring that organisations use Google's proprietary mark-up in order to benefit from Google's promotion.

AMP is not accessible

There has not been a thorough accessibility review of AMP. Many of the components are not accessible.

This is legally and morally troubling. AMP need to do much better at testing accessibility. I also think that their validator should refuse to pass a page if it doesn't meet a threshold of automatic accessibility testing.

No user research

AMP claims to be doing the best for the user. But they have published no user research about what users want, how they interact with components, or what they have difficulty with.
The launch of AMP Email highlights this. It is impossible for a publisher to use without understanding the user needs it attempts to solve.

I don't want AMP to publish videos of users, or other identifiable information. We need to see the same sort of publication as you'd deliver to your CEO.

Without user research support, there's no acceptable route to creating new AMP components.

AMP spreads fake news

When you visit an AMP page, your URL bar shows google.com/amp/.... - that has led to lots of extremely dubious content being shared by people who think they're looking at an "authoritative" Google Page.

Removing the URL bar is not the answer. Users need to be able to see who is actually responsible for publishing the content they are reading. Obfuscating it damages the web ecosystem.

Perhaps Signed Exchanges are the answer?

Signed Exchanges are not the answer

Yet another Google product to solve the mess created by a different Google product!
Signed Exchanges are complicated. Basically, a website packages up a page and cryptographically signs it. An entirely different site can then serve the bundle but the browser shows the URL of the original site!

That is, I download a page from Google, but my browser says "example.com".

It looks like Firefox and Safari won't support this. Content Delivery Networks are worried about how much traffic it will take from them. Security experts worry about the holes in the scheme. And publishers fear losing analytics.

It's a clever idea - and possibly really useful for a fully distributed network. But the current implementation looks like Google trying to keep users within its walled garden with no hope of escape.

Browser compatibility

When a user uses Chrome for Android to search Google, they get AMP results. When a user tries the same search in Firefox, they only get regular results. We found the same thing occurring with several other mobile browsers.

Google has effectively said "You have to use our browser on our search engine to get the fastest content written in our langauge."

That strikes me as possibly being anti-competitive and certainly antithetical to the idea of an open and neutral web.

My top recommendations

  • Publish all user research
    • Don't allow new components to be created without a clear user story and research to support them.
  • Accessibly audit
    • Don't validate pages which can't pass an automated a11y test
  • Stop the forced bundling
    • Let users opt-out of seeing AMP pages
    • Don't require AMP for prominent placement
    • Stop discriminating against non-Google browsers
  • Reconsider AMP4Email
    • Lots of concerns from smaller email providers
    • Security and archiving concerns
  • Work with the ecosystem rather than imposing

Conclusions

The meeting was good natured. While there were some robust discussions, the AC seemed fairly unified that Google had to seriously rework parts of the AMP project.

As I said in the meeting - if it were up to me, I'd go "Well, AMP was an interesting experiment. Now it is time to shut it down and take the lessons learned back through a proper standards process."

I suspect that is unlikely to happen. Google shows no sign of dropping AMP. Mind you, I thought that about Google+ and Inbox, so who knows!

My personal view as advisory committee member - if AMP is to continue then it needs to become a much better citizen of the open web.

11 thoughts on “A report from the AMP Advisory Committee Meeting

  1. Matt Wohlmuth says:

    Thanks for spending your time on this, for the community.

  2. Tomasz Darmetko says:

    I also want to say big thank you, dear stranger, for the work you are doing!

    Google is being evil and there needs to be a counterbalance.

  3. Claudio P says:

    Glad to see I am not the only one finding AMP troubling. But I wonder how much advice Google is ready to take – and implement – from the committee…

  4. Eric Mischel says:

    As 5G networks roll out and become more widely adopted why would anyone with access like that care about AMP. I get it if you live somewhere with a slow wireless connection, but IMHO this feels like a solution looking for a problem to solve.

    1. @edent says:

      What percentage of the world do you think has access to fast 4G networks right now?

    2. Paul says:

      Even with google scholar over 1% of searches are on mobile using 3G or lower networks (its higher for google direct)

  5. Axel says:

    A big thanks for doing this

  6. Paul says:

    One other aspect about AMP, particularly as it refers to Google Scholar. Publishers get paid based on COUNTER reports and if you’re driving all the abstract traffic to AMP pages then their page views registered by COUNTER (an industry standard) are not counted, and hence makes the publication very attractive to librarians to cancel (as the vast majority of views are to abstract pages). Google has been working on linking that traffic to the publishers web site but it again is decreasing the publishers brand to highlight google’s, and that’s why it won’t work. (Views are my own and not of my employer).

  7. James Higgott says:

    Thanks for this, Terence, and for attending the AC to represent these views.
    One additional issue I have with AMP is that publishers do not have access to the same analytics they would if users were viewing their own websites rather than AMP pages. This makes it harder for them to understand how their users are behaving and to design better products based on that information.

  8. Jeroen says:

    Thanks for doing this! AMP should be killed off quickly and I sincerely hope this is the first step in doing so.

  9. Joel says:

    I felt the same way about Google installing Fiber in our city (Louisville, KY). They started in, did a lot of work and got the government to pass some stuff in their favor. And then the ran into a few problems and pulled out (https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/07/google-fiber-pulls-out-of-louisville/).

    Hopefully they start to feel the same about AMP as they (apparently) do about Kentucky.

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