The trouble with AMP

Many publishers feel compelled to use the Accelerated Mobile Pages format because Google favors it so strongly. Could we make it better?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

AMP makes many of us in publishing uncomfortable, including myself. The Google-driven format was at the centre of The Economist mobile site redesign we heard about last night at Hacks/Hackers London - and it was clearly driven because "Google prioritises AMP pages in search results". Afterwards, there was some dark muttering from those of us who came of digital age in the days of the truly open web about this. Google is, after all, exerting its effective monopoly in search to force publishers into using it.

Happily, at least one person is fighting back. Terence Eden really doesn't like AMP. And so, he's joined the AMP Advisory Committee.

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.

There's plenty of interesting thoughts in the piece, but publishers will find a huge amount of resonance here:

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.

Many publisher sites still aren't great — but being forced into a Google format with a number of major downsides ain't a great solution either. If Google are serious about AMP as an open standard, rather than a Google one, we need to see changes in their behavior to support that. And the very very first step would be listening to, and acting on, this kind of feedback.

AMPing up Fake News

Even if you're a completely  non-technical journalist, you should be concerned about this, because AMP is helping amplify intentional  misinformation. eden makes a spectacularly good point about AMP and misinformation that I'd missed entirely:

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

I'm profoundly glad that someone like Eden is there, making these points — and I'm grateful to him for taking the time to do so.

Underlying this, though, is a growing conviction that we have to continue extricating ourselves from under the thumb of the giant platforms, because as long as we do so, we have to live by their diktats, even when those diktats come dressed in a gauzy veneer of open source, as AMP does.

I no longer serve AMP from One Man & His Blog. I'm not a news site, and have no aspirations to be in the news carousel, so that's an easy call for me to make. Many publishers can't afford to make that call right now — even ones with the power of The Economist — and so it's important we try to make things like AMP better, while looking at ways of building direct relationships with our readers.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.