'They're telling us how the Web should work': The publisher view of Google's AMP

Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative has gotten the stamp of approval from major publishers, including The Washington Post, Vox Media and The New York Times. But lingering questions about the initiative’s inner workings, and some latent paranoia about Google’s real motivations, have others feeling skeptical.

AMP’s stated mission is to speed up the mobile Web, which it attempts to do in part by stripping pages of elements most likely to slow them down. This means putting the kibosh on most third-party scripts responsible for elements such as ads and analytics tags, as well as iframes and other embeddable elements. It’s an initiative with good intentions, some say, but one that many worry ignores the role that Google, which owns the DoubleClick ad server, has had in slowing down publisher pages in the first place.

“It’s strange that Google is making this about speed when the No. 1 culprit of slow pages is the very ad serving tech that Google offers,” said Patrick Thornton, director of digital products at Washingtonian Magazine. “It’s strange that they’re not fixing it from that angle but instead trying to basically fork HTML.”

And yet, despite those reservations, Thornton said that Washingtonian Magazine will still likely “kick the tires” with AMP.

Accelerated Mobile Pages is obviously a rapid response to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which is also predicated on helping publishers serve their content faster on mobile devices. But the two initiatives, while sharing similar motivations, have very different end games.

“Instant Articles are problematic because publishers are giving control over to Facebook to determine how content is displayed to Facebook users. But AMP is troubling because Google is telling us how it thinks the entire Web should work,” said Aram Zucker-Scharff, lead developer at PressForward and tech consultant to media companies. “There’s no version of Instant Articles that affects your entire site.”

There are also some big questions for what AMP means for a variety of third parties, including analytics companies and ad tech providers. Google said that AMP loads core site content before advertising but has yet to detail how features such as targeting and tracking will work within its system. “It’s unclear what it means for ad tech at this stage, but we are digging in,” said Index Exchange CEO Andrew Casale, who said he approved of Google’s focus on page performance.

In the end, much of the concern about Google’s AMP is because it is a product of Google itself. While Google said that publishers implementing AMP won’t get preferential treatment, it did tweak its algorithm earlier this year to factor site speed in its search results. Many see this as just another front in Google’s war against Facebook — a war in which publishers are caught in the middle.

“Of course you don’t have to get on board with this, but if you don’t, you risk not being seen. It’s not really a choice,” Zucker-Scharff said. “It’s Google’s world and publishers are just living in it.”