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What is AMP? Or, the Google future of the web

5th Sep 2017 / By Michael Gunner

AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, are Google’s attempt, at least on the surface, at bringing a faster and more fluid web experience to those browsing via mobile. It’s no secret or surprise that page speed on mobile continues to be a problem for web developers.

But, dig a little deeper (although not much) and it becomes clear that AMP is also a very clever business tactic. Firstly, AMP pages are all hosted by Google. So if you’re using AMP, your content and pages are held on a google.com address. This may well be a limitation of the technology, but it does raise questions over the control we have over our content if it’s sitting on a Google web address. Secondly, AMP pages are displayed favourably in Google search results. Google say this is to deliver fast content to users first, but it does also act as a way of compelling business and brands to utilise AMP.

AMP also raises a variety of other quandaries. Crucially, it’s a proprietary technology. Standard open web technologies such as HTML, JavaScript and CSS are alone not enough. Instead, AMP pages consist of special AMP tags that only work for that platform. This raises ethical questions over how AMP sits with the concept of the open web.

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, feels that openness is essential for innovation.

But also, it’s questionable how much of a performance advantage AMP achieves over a correctly optimised, open-web mobile experience. At Neptik, we’ve been busy researching and working with new techniques and technologies that can help provide massive improvements to load times, response times and fluidity of the mobile web. How close this takes us to AMP levels of speed depends on the context of the project, but we have many projects loading across 3G connections in roughly the same time it takes for you to blink.

Responsive web design pioneer and advocate Ethan Marcotte isn’t a huge fan either, and raises some legitimate concerns over AMP and the future of the web. Ethan feels like whilst there are speed benefits, the business case for using AMP is much more about the more prevalent position in search results a business can expect as a result.

Ultimately, it’s a toss up between the benefit of a page that loads slightly more quickly and can boost your search engine placement, against AMP contravening the concept of the open web as well as forcing your content to be hosted, and ultimately controlled, by Google. I personally believe AMP doesn’t have a legitimate future. It exists to solve a genuine problem, but I don’t feel the solution is a proprietary standard controlled by a web giant. Instead, I think we need to focus on taking the standards we have and the tools at our disposal (such as the excellent Lighthouse performance tool) to help improve the mobile experience.