Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project (AMP) focuses current conflicts on the web like a lense: The mobile revolution, trustworthy and sustainable journalism, content monetarization and advertising, web standardization, web performance and tech industry monopolies.
A lot has been said about AMP. In this post, I won’t explain what AMP is and I won’t reiterate all criticism it drew. Please see these introductory posts on AMP:
- Too many scripts are loaded from several servers. On certain sites, scripts from third-party services dominate and are out of control.
- Scripts are large, generate network traffic and cost the users money.
- The code of scripts, especially library and framework code, is mostly unused on the requested page. Similar code is shipped multiple times.
- Script loading, parsing and execution blocks loading and rendering of the most important content.
- Scripts load content lazily so the page builds up gradually. Content jumps around, which frustrates user interactivity.
- Script execution puts pressure on the CPU, interferes with user interaction and drains the battery.
- Scripts disrupt the rendering cycle of the browser, causing “yank” and interruptions.
- Scripts are still fragile because of network failure, different browser runtimes and compatibility issues.
- Advertisement and analytics scripts collect data about the device, create fingerprints and save them in a local storage, violating the user’s privacy.
Web performance optimization falls short
Since most scripts are written by third parties or consist of third-party library code, it’s not a problem an individual site can tackle. It’s a problem of the web ecosystem as a whole.
Google weighs in with its market power
Google is the biggest company that bets on the success of the web. Google not only dominates web search, but also mobile operating systems, advertising, mapping, web-based office tools, e-mail, video and analytics. It was mainly Google that advanced the web from a document delivery system to a rich application platform under the “HTML5” umbrella. Today, Google has an almost absolute power over the web and its technical progress.
Google examined the messed-up web performance situation and looked for a solution. Google recognizes that it cannot change the whole web in one day. So it creates new web standards, builds a faster browser, educates web authors and provides authoring tools with performance principles baked-in. Since Google depends on web content producers, it relies on the “democratic” approach of developer evangelism.
Two steps are necessary to cut the Gordian knot of web performance:
- The expertise and the means to come up with a viable solution.
- The power to implement and enforce this solution.
It turns out the web community lacks both. It’s not the case that no one has the expertise, but the means are scattered and the efforts are uncoordinated. More importantly, nobody in the web community has the power to enforce rules on a large amount of the sites.
Except for Google.
An authoritarian solution
Google realized the “democratic” approach was not able to alter the course quickly. So Google tried an “authoritarian” approach. In my opinion, AMP mirrors the power structures of the web, especially Google’s political and economic predominance.
Creating a viable solution is just half the work. Forcing it on the larger web is the other half. So Google favors AMP pages in the Google mobile search. AMP pages appear in the “news carousel” at the top and are marked with a lightning symbol. They are loaded “inline” so navigation between the search results list and the individual search result is seemless.
The Open Web community should concede defeat
One and a half year after Google launched AMP, several notable media outlets jumped on the bandwagon. Initially, Google envisioned AMP as a format for news articles for mobile reading. But according to the AMP roadmap, Google plans to “broaden support toward a variety of content formats, including news articles, recipes, local listings, product listings, and more”.
In my opinion, AMP is a defeat for the Open Web community against privatization, monopolization and centralization. This loss is somehow self-inflicted. The Open Web community failed to provide clear and easy performance frameworks, rule sets and validation tools like AMP does. In the face of the mobile revolution, the community failed to make the web accessible to mobile devices.
Democratize web performance