Author(s): Raghu Gopal
A couple of weeks ago, Google revealed that it's hoping to transform Web standards by applying the lessons learned from its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) framework. Launched in 2016, the format aimed to deliver mobile-optimised content — Internet pages that would load almost instantly on mobile devices. Google is now working with the World Wide Web Consortium, the body that oversees Web standards, to turn its framework into a more widely used technology.
The Internet is standardised for a desktop experience, but this no longer reflects modern-day content viewing: in 2015, Google reported that more than half of online searches happened on smartphones. In the US, smartphone ownership now stands at about 80 percent and the figure is higher in some countries in Asia and Western Europe.
Google says that AMP-enabled pages load substantially faster on smartphones than those not optimised for viewing on mobile devices. However, there's controversy in the way the company has reached this optimisation. Google has been pushing content publishers to adopt its framework and has said it would show and rank pages and sites that use the protocol higher in mobile search results. It has also been highlighting AMP pages on its mobile search carousel. Note that a carousel is a container for multiple visually-rich results of the same type on a Web site. It can also contain recipes and articles from different sites in one carousel — for example, Google's Top Stories.
AMP has been a crucial part of Google's increasingly mobile-first strategy. Under this approach, the company uses a site's mobile content for search indexing and ranking, with higher weight than for Web content. According to Google, many sites integrating the technology have reported big rises in click-through and the number of returning mobile users. As of mid-2017, there are more than 2 billion Web pages based on AMP, from 900,000 domains.
However, some content owners and Web developers have argued that Google's use of proprietary code in AMP counters the general spirit of the open Web. Google's implementation of mobile search with preference for AMP pages in the carousel has faced especially heavy criticism. For its part, the company argues that it has always intended to offer AMP into the standards bodies, but needed to get an approach out into the market to learn and ensure it works at scale first.
Google is now moving to standardise the AMP framework through the World Wide Web Consortium, which, if successful, should defuse any controversy and allow the core elements of the protocol to become de facto technologies for the Web. AMP has a better chance of becoming a widely adopted standard for the Web once it isn't a proprietary framework than rival approaches from Apple with Apple News and Facebook's Instant Articles.
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