A number of friends sent me this article on The Verge about Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, and wondered what I thought of it. (Note to self: this is probably a sign I should write much, much less about AMP.) The article’s covering an announcement made by the AMP team, and while the entire thing’s worth a read, this was the key bit for me:
Google’s goal is to extend support in features like the Top Stories carousel to AMP-like content that (1) meets a set of performance and user experience criteria and (2) implements a set of new web standards. Some of the proposed standards in the critical path are Feature Policy, Web Packaging, iframe promotion, Performance Timeline, and Paint Timing.
To unpack that a bit, the AMP team is saying they’re defining standards by which non-AMP pages would receive the same level of search placement that’s enjoyed by AMP. (And currently, exclusively enjoyed by AMP.)
On the face of it, I’m thrilled to hear the AMP team adopt a more open tone. As I mentioned last year, and again more recently, AMP’s value isn’t really the format as such — rather, companies use AMP because of its privileged position in Google’s search results. And if non-AMP pages can enjoy the same privilege? Well, frankly, that’d be wonderful.
However, it feels really, really premature to celebrate. A couple months ago, the AMP team issued a similar-sounding announcement, in which they announced the problematic
google.com/amp URLs would disappear — or rather, they’ll disappear in browsers that support a newly-established “Web Packaging” standard. Here’s John Gruber’s take on that announcement:
Sharing canonical URLs rather than
google.com/ampURLs is just one of many problems with AMP, and the “fix” proposed here requires updated versions of every web browser in the world to work.
Until such a point as those standards get finalized, and then they’re adopted by a significant number of browsers, AMP’s going to work exactly the way it has. To put a finer point on it, nothing about AMP is changing today, in the short-term, nor in the medium-term. In fact, it’s entirely possible that nothing will change at all. For the time being, web pages written in AMP — and hosted on Google-owned or -approved servers — are going to be the only thing allowed in the carousel.
But putting aside the timeline concerns for a moment, I found myself asking a number of questions as I read the announcement. Specifically:
- The announcement mentions non-AMP pages will have to meet a set of “objective performance and user experience criteria”.
- What are the precise criteria by which a non-AMP page can appear in the carousel? (According to The Verge, that list doesn’t currently exist.)
- Who or what will define this initial set of criteria?
- Who or what will be allowed to change this set of criteria?
- The announcement mentions that non-AMP pages must incorporate “a set of future web standards”. The announcement only outlines “some” of them.
- Same questions as above: what’s the precise list of standards required for inclusion, and who defined that list? And who or what can change this list?
- What browser vendors other than Google have expressed an intent to implement these standards?
- What is a reasonable timeframe for finalizing, and then shipping, these standards? In other words, when could we reasonably expect non-AMP pages to be published in the carousel?
- Will AMP content be prioritized over non-AMP content in the carousel?
- The AMP team recently announced they’re integrating AMP into Gmail, and released a newly immersive (and long-rumored) “Story” format. Will those integrations still be exclusive to the AMP format? If so, why?
It’s worth asking these questions, I think. Because it’s great to hear the AMP team make some overtures toward a more open web — and personally, I’d like to thank them sincerely for doing so. But if we’re swapping one set of Google-owned criteria for another set of slightly more permissive Google-owned criteria, I’m not sure how much will have changed.
Again, as of today, the issues outlined by you, by me, and many others in our industry are still, well, issues. So while I applaud this announcement, I still have questions. Maybe you do, too.