Browsers 12-03-2015

A Look at Google's Accelerated Mobile Pages

Ashley Call

On October 7 Google announced their new project Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), an open source initiative, that will aim to make the mobile web experience faster. As Search Engine Watch summarizes, AMP “simplify cumbersome HTML, CSS and JavaScript elements, resulting in a stripped down page that only includes the most vital content (text, images, videos, and of course, site ads).”  This simplified code will provide users with a clean and instantaneous connection with their mobile browsers, reducing the bounce rate on slowly loading web pages. Initial specifications were released on Github although the project is not expected to be rolled out until early 2016.

While the immediate benefit of this project—fast mobile browsing—is undoubtedly going to make average users happy, the announcement leaves some unanswered questions about how these affect privacy issues. As is always the case, new web developments require careful scrutiny. We recognize the significant ways that this project will improve user experience, while also recognizing valid concerns about the project.

Support for the Project

As stated above, the improvements this project will do for mobile web browsing are obvious. But how much faster is the browser expected to work? As Ars Technica reports, Google’s “early testing with a simulated 3G connection and a simulated Nexus 5 showed improvements of between 15 to 85 percent.” The significance of these improved speeds will have a big impact on the way users read the news on their phones and tablets.

Publishers and technology organizations will also benefit from AMP because they will more easily keep the attention of their users. Google’s announcement makes it obvious that the project is well-supported by many big names. Of the 30 organizations already on-board with the project, Google lists Twitter, Wordpress, and LinkedIn as companies that have already agreed to integrate the AMP HTML code into their mobile pages. The support of these large organizations suggests the potential of the project.

Google has thus been fairly transparent about the intentions of this project, acknowledging that it will not only benefit users, but will also benefit publishers who are losing money because of slow browsers. Google notes a well-known problem for online marketing which is that “Every time a webpage takes too long to load, [publishers] lose a reader—and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions.”

Leaders of the project have also announced that the Google Search app will evolve according to AMP. Business Insider reports, “Not only will participating publishers' web pages load quicker from search, but people searching on mobile for topics in the news will also see a new "Top stories" carousel.” Additional AMP features and functionality are expected to be further developed as the project evolves.

Concerns for the Project

The concerns for the project are also incredibly valid. In this post by the NiemanLab, Joshua Benton points out that AMP is just one more instance of tech companies monopolizing the Internet and restricting the control that other publishers and organizations have over their content. While publishers can opt to not use the AMP HTML, they will soon be negatively impacted on their Google search rankings for slower browser speeds. Not to mention that only 5 advertising networks will initially be supported in AMP—four of them owned by Google, Amazon, and AOL.

Most concerns raised for the project address the restrictions that AMP will implement. As the blog Yoast points out, “AMP basically brings us back to an internet from before 2000.” This strips down the functionality that has been successfully built in the past 15 years, which will be frustrating to many publishers and organizations who benefit from more recently developed features.

While this stripping down for the purpose of faster pages is exactly the mission of AMP, it opens big questions for the impact this will have on security. Security is a topic that has not yet been addressed by any news coverage, but as the project continues these questions will require answers.

There are also the ongoing concerns with user privacy, which don’t go away with this new project. Google’s “mega-policy” regarding information collection and storage hasn’t gone away and even though AMP doesn’t using tracking scripts, Google is still tracking users.

As most will agree, the big names of publishers that support this project and the obvious benefits that Google has pointed out will make this project something worth watching for in the coming months. Figuring out what to do, if there is anything to do, with some of these concerns will be another task entirely.


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