In the world of sci-fi, some genius inventor type comes up with a device which immediately disables all guns, missiles, torpedoes, everything. At the flick of a switch, the rate of violent death and injury plummets to a fraction of its former level, and the world rejoices. Of course, sci-fi being sci-fi, the inventor invariably turns out to be a supervillain, or a good guy whose power goes to his head and who turns bad in the second act.
Oh, did I mention? Google (the search engine’s parent company) just changed its name to Alphabet, and dropped “don’t be evil” from its code of conduct. Which means the question facing every publisher could hardly be bigger: is Google a force for good … or is it turning into the opposite?
The question is particularly germane right now because Google has just unveiled Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) – an attempt to bring the cleanliness and speed of mobile apps to the mobile web.
In the tradition of Android, Google is investing a significant sum in AMP without making it proprietary – it’s an open-source standard that anybody can sign up to. But just as Android was a necessary competitive response to the iPhone, so AMP is a necessary competitive response to recent attempts by Apple and Facebook to suck all mobile content into their own apps – areas where Google has no sway. Google’s natural domain is the open web; any threat to the open web is a threat to it; and therefore Google is going to do everything in its power to keep content out in the open, rather than being walled off inside third-party apps.
Google’s attempt to compete with Facebook’s Instant Articles, and Apple’s News articles, is by necessity drastic. It strips the web back to something very basic: text loads first, then images, and there is very little freedom for publishers to do anything particularly clever or interactive. But that’s what readers want. Years of attempts to create immersive interactive web-based experiences on a four-inch screen have all yielded the same result: while people are happy to lose themselves in apps, they simply don’t behave the same way with web pages. When you navigate to a website, you want to be able to see what’s on that website speedily, without interruption.
AMP, then, is pretty unambiguously good for all of us who daily navigate the web on our phones – but is it good for publishers?
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