Google AMP will make reading the news faster… Accelerated Mobile Pages is designed to save readers seconds and make money for publishers online where slow-loading sites can make all the difference.
Google’s answer to the failings of the mobile internet launched on Wednesday, promising to eliminate those excruciating seconds between tapping a link on your smartphone screen and being able to read an article on your favourite news website.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (Amp) offers a redesigned, slimmed-down version of HTML, the language in which web pages are written, and a set of rules for publishers and advertisers that stops them putting data-heavy graphics, interactive features and ads in their articles. As part of the programme, Google is also offering to store versions of the pages on its own servers around the world, and will show Amp articles in a carousel at the top of search results.
All this is designed to speed up access to news for readers, but it is also aimed at helping the people who produce the news, such as the Guardian, the Daily Mail or the New York Times, to make money from a readership that has rapidly moved first from print to computer screen and now on to their smartphones.
Eliminating those few seconds of delay is important because they can make the difference between someone reading an article – and seeing an ad alongside it – and simply abandoning it. Research firm Forrester claims 40% of people will not bother with a shopping website if it takes more than three seconds to load, and that’s when they are looking at something they want to buy.
Those delays are also helping drive the adoption of ad blockers, which on mobile devices can save consumers both time and their data allowance by stopping pages downloading the ads and tracking code that comes with them.
“The whole point of Amp is to allow the web to get back into the position of being the vibrant, compelling, fast experience it should be, in the interests of users and the interests of publishers,” Google head of news Richard Gingras told the Guardian before the launch.
“Important in that regard is to make sure publishers can control their content, control their business models, control their destinies.”
Will it work? Google claims that Amp pages load four times faster and use 10 times less data, and early tests by some publishers suggest it is having an impact.
“On Saturday we had elections in South Carolina and Nevada and as part of that we tested, with a limited selection of our audience, amplifying our coverage of those elections,” says ABC News vice-president of digital Colby Smith. “We saw some really encouraging results with the latency and with audience consumption. The audience engagement with that content was higher than expected.”
Not only were ABC’s audience more likely to read articles on Amp sites, but Smith says they were also more likely to start watching its video reports from the Democrat and Republican votes.
The real test for Google, however, will be whether Amp keeps people on the web, where people use Google search to find what they want, rather than abandoning it in favour of the “walled gardens” of its competitors, chief among them Facebook.
Facebook has its own fast lane for news content, Instant Articles, which takes a feed from publishers and turns them into stripped-down pages that also load more quickly. It has two major advantages: it lives inside the world’s largest social network, and, for the moment at least, ad blockers can’t do anything about the ads.
Despite the promise of speed, many in the publishing business are privately worried about working with both Facebook and Google, who are competitors for advertising and have hoovered up the vast majority of the ad money targeting people on their smartphones.
However, Google has been bending over backwards to reassure its partners that it has their best interests at heart. The code for Amp articles is public and open source, and the talk about the project has been all about providing publishers with “control” and fostering the “open web”. From the start, it promised a collaborative approach, and on that count it seems to have delivered.
“The project been quite unprecedented in terms of collaboration,” says New York Times director of product Kate Harris. “It’s quite unique to have a group of competitors together. We’ve had conversations with other publishers. That’s something that I have never done on a project.”
Though few are prepared to criticise Facebook publicly, some say its approach has been very different. Facebook, for instance, is said to forbid its partners from sharing information with other publishers involved in the project.
Google’s rhetoric is designed to emphasise the openness of its solution and underline the financial benefits on offer.
“Right from the beginning, the two key issues we were looking to address with Amp were the comparatively sluggish performance of the world wide web versus proprietary platforms, and the challenge in the ad market, particularly with ad blockers,” says Gingras.
“That is one of the driving rationals of the Amp project, the open web has been an extraordinary resource. It has allowed the Guardian to go from comparatively tiny audiences to immense audiences, that wouldn’t happen without the open web. It has allowed tiny organisations like Inside Climate News in Long Island to come out with excellent environmental reporting and win a Pulitzer prize – that wouldn’t happen without the open web. That likely wouldn’t happen in a world with proprietary web platforms.”
Google has built Amp along open principles because it needs the open web to make money. For publishers, that has meant a very different partner to work with. For most consumers on their phones, all that will matter is those few precious seconds saved.
Original Article written by Jasper Jackson for The Guardian