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Main article: Amp

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Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

20:13 | 18 September

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, Javascript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans.

Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches.

Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user to an AMP page hosted by Google, effectively cutting out the owner of the content in the process.

The project has been led by Malte Ubl, a senior staff engineer working on Google’s Javascript infrastructure projects, who has until now held effective unilateral control over the project.

In the wake of all of this criticism, the AMP project announced today that it would reform its governance, replacing Ubl as the exclusive tech lead with a technical steering committee comprised of companies invested in the success in the project. Notably, the project’s intention has an “…end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.” In addition, the project will create an advisory board and working groups to shepherd the project’s work.

The project is also expected to move to a foundation in the future. These days, there are a number of places such a project could potentially reside, including the Apache Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

While the project has clearly had its detractors, the performance improvements that AMP has been fighting for are certainly meritorious. With this more open governance model, the project may get deeper support from other browser makers like Apple, Mozilla, and Microsoft, as well as the broader open source community.

And while Google has certainly been the major force behind the project, it has also been popular among open source software developers. Since the project’s launch, there have been 710 contributors to the project according to its statistics, and the project (attempting to empathize its non-Google monopoly) notes that more than three quarters of those contributors don’t work at Google.

Nonetheless, more transparency and community involvement should help to accelerate Accelerated Mobile Pages. The project will host its contributor summit next week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, where these governance changes as well as the technical and design roadmaps for the project will be top of mind for attendees.

 


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Google promises publishers an alternative to AMP

21:57 | 8 March

Google’s AMP project is not uncontroversial. Users often love it because it makes mobile sites load almost instantly. Publishers often hate it because they feel like they are giving Google too much control in return for better placement on its search pages. Now Google proposes to bring some of the lessons it learned from AMP to the web as a whole. Ideally, this means that users will profit from Google’s efforts and see faster non-AMP sites across the web (and not just in their search engines).

Publishers, however, will once again have to adopt a whole new set of standards for their sites, but with this, Google is also giving them a new path to be included in the increasingly important Top Stories carousel on its mobile search results pages.

“Based on what we learned from AMP, we now feel ready to take the next step and work to support more instant-loading content not based on AMP technology in areas of Google Search designed for this, like the Top Stories carousel,” AMP tech lead Malte Ubl writes today. “This content will need to follow a set of future web standards and meet a set of objective performance and user experience criteria to be eligible.”

AMP, in many ways, is a hack on top of the web that uses a smart combination of modern web technologies, iframes, a stripped-down set of markup, and proxies to speed up pages. Now, with new standards like Web Packaging (you can think of it as a ZIP file for web content), Feature Policy (so developers can turn certain browser features on and off at will), Paint Timing and others, developers have tools to speed up their sites even more.

Google says it wants to highlight sites that use these technologies to feature non-AMP sites in its Top Stories carousel when and if they meet its performance and user experience criteria and implement these new standards. The AMP team stresses that Web Packaging, in particular, will allow it to instant-load pages outside of AMP.

To some degree, these new technologies clear a path for publishers who want to be featured in Google’s Top Stories carousel on mobile without having to use AMP. For now, though, the AMP team is also pretty clear about the fact that it can’t provide publishers a timeline for when Google itself will start implementing these changes. Many of the standards, after all, are still in flux.

Unsurprisingly then, Google continues to recommend that publishers bet on AMP for the time being. “We hope this work will also unlock AMP-like embeddability that powers Google Search features like the Top Stories carousel,” writes Ubl. “Meanwhile, AMP will be Google’s well-lit path to creating great user experiences on the web. It will be just one of many choices, but it will be the one we recommend.”

With AMP still being the recommended solution, though, some critics will surely wonder whether Google is simply interested in building and highlighting this second path to deflect people’s criticism of the AMP project. Having talked to the AMP team in the past, I’m sure that’s not the goal here, but given the community’s suspicions of AMP, that’s something the team will likely have to address sooner or later.

Featured Image: Alexandre Amaral / EyeEm/Getty Images

 


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AMP for email is a terrible idea

03:17 | 14 February

 Google just announced a plan to “modernize” email, allowing “engaging, interactive, and actionable email experiences.” Does that sound like a terrible idea to anyone else? It sure sounds like a terrible idea to me, and not only that, but an idea borne out of competitive pressure and existing leverage rather than user needs. Not good, Google. Send to trash. Read More

 


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Why Google Stories will save, not screw, Snapchat Discover

23:35 | 13 February

 Snapchat has a new ally or enemy depending on how you look at Google’s new mobile magazine format, but the social app is welcoming the search giant. Google’s clone of Snapchat Discover called AMP Stories officially launched today, allowing news outlets to create photo/video slideshows that appear in mobile search results and on their site. Suddenly, Snapchat isn’t the only… Read More

 


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Google wants to use AMP to make email more interactive

17:00 | 13 February

Google’s AMP format has always been about making mobile pages render faster. But Google is now taking it beyond posts, recipes and how-to articles. First, the company launched the new AMP story format earlier today and now it’s also announcing a preview of AMP for Email.

At first, that may seem like an odd combination, especially given that few people complain about how slowly their emails render (they are mostly text, after all). Google argues that AMP is the right format to modernize email, though. “Many people rely on email for information about flights, events, news, purchases and beyond—more than 270 billion emails are sent each day,” Gmail product manager Aarash Sahney writes today. “With AMP for Email, it’s easy for information in email messages to be dynamic, up-to-date and actionable.”

Using AMP for Email, developers will be able to add an interactive calendar to your email, for example, so you don’t have to go through five rounds of back-and-forth messages to find a meeting time. Similarly, a message from your airline could show you up-to-date flight information or a marketer could send you a survey that you can fill out right in your inbox without having to go to another site.

Over the years, Google has launched numerous projects to modernize email. Back in 2013, for example, it launched customizable action buttons in Gmail. For the most part, though, emails haven’t really changed and every new format can only succeed if enough of Google’s competitors support it.

For now, AMP for Email is only available to developers who request preview access. The plan is to roll support out to Gmail later this year.

 


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Google takes AMP beyond basic posts with its new story format

11:30 | 13 February

For the most part, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project was about what its name implies: accelerating mobile pages. Unsurprisingly, that mostly meant quickly loading and rendering existing articles on news sites, recipes and other relatively text-heavy content. With that part of AMP being quite successful (if not always beloved) now, Google is looking to take AMP beyond these basic stories. At its AMP Conf in Amsterdam, the company today announced the launch of the AMP story format.

The overall idea here isn’t all that different from the stories format you are probably already familiar with from the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. This new format allows publishers to build image-, video- and animation-heavy stories for mobile that you can easily swipe through. “It’s a mobile-focused format for creating visually rich stories,” as Google’s product manager for the AMP project Rudy Galfi called it when I talked to him last week. “It swings the doors open to create visually interesting stories.”To launch this format, Google partnered with CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media and The Washington Post. Like all of AMP, this is an open-source project and publishers can extend it as needed.

The idea here is to start surfacing AMP stories in Google’s search results over time. For now, though, this is only a preview that is meant to give developers and publishers time to support this new format.

Indeed, the first thing publishers will likely notice, though, is that there’s no tooling yet for building AMP stories. To some degree, that was also the case when Google first showed AMP for regular posts, though developers quickly wrote plugins for all of the popular CMS systems to support it. “Publishers that have been working with AMP stories managed to build fairly easy integrations with their existing CMS systems,” Galfi told us.

Even once tooling is available, though, publishers will have to create AMP stories from scratch. They can’t just easily recycle an existing post, slap on an image and call it a day. The success of the AMP story format, then, is going to be about making the right tools available for building these stories without adding overhead of developers, who are not necessarily all going to be happy about the fact that Google is launching yet another format that it may or may not support in the future.

It’s also still unclear how Google will surface these stories in search and how publishers can ensure that they’ll be included here. Because these AMP stories live separate from regular posts, Google will likely give publishers another means of pinging it when new stories go live.

For now, if you want to try an AMP story, head here and search for one by the launch partners. You’ll find AMP stories under the new “Visual Stories from” header in the search results.

While I’m not sure if publishers will fully embrace this format, I have to admit that the existing AMP stories I looked at made for a nice diversion. The Washington Post used the format to experiment with a timeline of North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, for example. Vox, unsurprisingly, used it for explainers, among other things, and Mashable probably went further than most by using video, sound and animations across most of its stories.

 


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Google acquires Relay Media to convert ordinary web pages to AMP pages

00:24 | 10 October

AMP — Google’s collaborative project to speed up the loading time for mobile web pages — is getting an interesting acceleration of its own today. Relay Media, a company founded by an ex-Googler that had developed technology to help covert web pages to the AMP format, has been acquired by Google.

The company announced the news on its home page, to its customers (one of whom, Russell Heimlich, lead developer at Philly blog BillyPenn.com, tipped the news to us), and on its LinkedIn page. We have reached out to Google to get a statement and will update this post as we learn more.

For now, what we know is that it looks like Google may be closing down Relay Media as part of the deal but will continue to operate the service as the tech is transferred to Google’s platform. New-publisher onboarding will be put on hold for the time being, it seems.

“We’re excited to announce that Google has acquired Relay Media’s AMP Converter technology,” the company writes. “Service for current customers will continue uninterrupted as we transition the Relay Media AMP Converter to Google’s infrastructure. We’re pausing new publisher onboarding as we focus on the integration effort.”

The note to existing users had only slightly more detail: some contact addresses for support and the indication that new AMP features would continue to be supported with Relay Media’s converter for now, although also with a warning:

“There’s no detailed roadmap for how the Converter may evolve over time, but we can assure you that if there’s a material change, you’ll get at least 90 days advance notice so that you can plan accordingly.” Those who continue to use it are now subject to Google’s terms of service and privacy policy.

It’s an interesting development for AMP, which Google has been building over the last couple of years as it looks for ways to show that the mobile web remains a viable alternative to building native apps. (Why? Because Google makes a lot of revenue from mobile search, so more people opting to use apps means fewer people opting for Google’s mobile search.)

The fact that Relay Media has been acquired now by Google is not too much of a surprise: I’m not sure longer term whether a business model offering a standalone conversion technology to run pages in AMP would ever be as viable as simply being a part of the bigger platform for which the conversion was originally intended.

Originally aimed at publications on the web, AMP has more recently extended to e-commerce and other kinds of online content. Google earlier this year said AMP was used on more than 2 billion pages covering some 900,000 domains.

The promise of AMP is that pages using the coding can load twice as fast as regular pages, leading to less impatient abandonment by those trying to visit them.

The downside for publishers is that they have less control over how those pages look and can be monetized. One criticism has been that AMP pages (and their counterparts on other sites like Facebook’s Instant Articles) essentially take readers away from publishers’ own domains, and on to Google domains, and so the traffic becomes harder to measure.

Relay Media CEO and co-founder David Gehring has been involved in the AMP Project since its inception as an effort of the Digital News Initiative (DNI), a collaboration between Google and a group of leading European news publishers. Gehring is a veteran of Google’s partnerships team and of The Guardian, and continues to advise the founding European DNI publishers on a range of economic and digital platform initiatives.

Relay launched its AMP-centric startup and business in May of 2016.

“We actually see favorable currents amidst the troubled waters of the digital ecosystem for quality publishers,” co-founder and CEO David Gehring said at the time.  “More users encounter content on the open mobile web than on desktop browsers or apps, and total mobile ad spending is now outpacing desktop. Programmatic CPMs are rising for quality publishers and viewable impressions.

“Unfortunately publishers’ ability to compete for revenue and engagement is impeded by cluttered, slow-loading pages and non-viewable ads. AMP is a well-timed opportunity to course-correct, providing the instant experience users desire and a clean, well-lit environment for monetization.”

Gehring knew a thing or two about the predicament first-hand: he had been involved in AMP as a Googler during its earliest efforts, when it was being built in collaboration with a group of European publishers involved in the the Digital News Initiative. (The DNI was part of Google’s efforts to work better with these publishers rather than face the wrath of regulators or those publishers deciding to delist their content altogether from Google searches.)

Before Google, Gehring had worked at U.K. publication The Guardian.

Gehring still lists Relay as his employer on his LinkedIn profile. Others from the startup are already noting new roles at Google.

We’ll update this as we learn more.

 


0

In iOS 11, Safari will strip out Google AMP links for shared stories

02:58 | 24 August

Anyone haunted by annoying link cruft will be relieved to hear that iOS 11 will transform Google AMP links back into their original forms when sharing a story from Safari. MacStories Editor Federico Viticci first spotted the change, which appears to be live in the new iOS 11 beta 7.

Google’s fast-loading AMP pages are ideal for platform-agnostic consumers looking for a quick read, but publishers tend to loathe them (with good reason). Pointing users toward Google domains instead of canonical links drains the natural search-driven traffic that was once the bread and butter of the online media world.

Earlier this year, Google announced that AMP links now load twice as fast thanks to image compression improvements and other under the hood tweaks. For the rest of us who favor purity over unbridled speed, this little iOS 11 change is just one more reason to look forward to September.

 


0

Google and Facebook envision Stories for news, not social

00:36 | 5 August

 Stories taught us the joy of dictating the pace of content consumption. We fast-forward in 10-second increments, with a quick trigger finger let loose the moment we get bored. That’s why soon, endless paragraphs of text and time-consuming videos might not be the only ways to get the news. Read More

 


0

Google brings expanded AMP support to search and display ads

21:14 | 23 May

When Google launched its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project about a year and a half ago, the focus was squarely on speeding up mobile web pages, with a special emphasis on news sites. Over the last few months, both the scope of supported pages and the range of places where Google surfaces AMP pages increased. Now, the company is taking the next step by using the technologies it developed for AMP to also speed up some of its core money-making services.

At an event in San Francisco, Google today announced that AdWords users will now be able to use AMP pages as the landing pages for their ads. In addition, Google said that it is now automatically converting Google Display Network ads into the AMP Ads format when they load on AMP pages to speed up their loading time, too. This feature is now available in beta.

AMP landing pages obviously load significantly faster than standard mobile web pages — typically in less than a second. And the faster those pages load, the higher the chance of converting a user into a customer. Google tested this feature with brands like Johnson & Johnson, eBay and real estate company Toll Brothers. “Johnson & Johnson has seen great results in testing AMP with our product information pages. For specific pages, we’ve seen page speeds improve by 10x and engagement rates improve by 20%,” Paul Ortmayer, Head of Digital Analytics – EMEA for Johnson & Johnson said in today’s announcement. “J&J is looking forward to expanding our application of AMP.”

As for AMP Ads, Google says that they will load up to 5 seconds faster than regular ads, even though they will look exactly the same. Google argues that this ensures that users will actually see these ads and “that the experiences users have with your brand is seamless.”

Earlier this month, at its I/O developer conference, Google announced that its newly optimized Google AMP Cache, together with a number of other speed-ups, allows AMP pages to load almost twice as fast from Google Search than before. The company also used the event to launch enhanced analytics support for AMP.

 


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