The Web's Own Worst Enemy: The Fallacy of Google's AMP

Juan Villela

Ah, Google. A company once known for its “Don’t be evil” motto. They have been on a long, winding road that has led it far from its original mantra. One of the most glaring examples of this detour is Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project. Remember that? It was supposed to be the savior of the mobile web. Instead, it became more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In 2015, Google introduced AMP to make web pages load faster on mobile devices. The idea was noble enough: combat the sluggish, ad-ridden mobile web and offer users a cleaner, quicker experience. But Google forced publishers to adopt AMP if they wanted prime real estate in search results. And it’s their algorithms that have rewarded sensational headlines and ad-stuffed pages.

But as The Verge pointed out, AMP came with a Faustian bargain. Sure, publishers saw an uptick in traffic, but at what cost? AMP severely restricted how publishers could monetize their content. It was the illusion of choice. In the early days of the web, publishers had control. They decided how their pages would look, what ads to run, and how to engage with their audience. But then came AMP, and suddenly, media execs found themselves bending over backward to comply with Google’s whims. Because if you’re not in Google’s good graces, you’re invisible. And let’s not forget that this move was so egregious that it became a crucial component in an antitrust lawsuit filed against Google in 2020.

From a developer’s perspective, AMP wasn’t just another framework but a straightjacket. It imposed strict rules on what could and couldn’t be done, stifling creativity and innovation. Developers had to learn a new set of guidelines so their websites could appear a fraction of a second faster on a Google search.

The web was built on the principles of openness and accessibility. Anyone could publish content, and anyone could access it. But proprietary formats like AMP, Facebook’s Instant Articles, and Apple News are antithetical to this vision. They create walled gardens that benefit only the companies that own them. Chris Coyier hit the nail when he said these formats add unnecessary complexity for publishers. ( Why do we need a zillion different formats when good old HTML and RSS have stood the test of time?

Thankfully, Google has dialed back on making AMP mandatory for “Top Stories,” but the damage has been done. And now we have Artifact, an AI-driven news app that promises to deliver a personalized news experience. And everyone seems to love its ease of use, quality news feed, and additional channels for reaching an audience. But let’s not get carried away. Artifact is still a walled garden, albeit a well-manicured one. It’s not the open web.; it’s another platform with its own rules and algorithms, and we’ve been down this road before. Remember, even Google’s AMP started with a promise of faster, better mobile web experiences.

Let’s remember the lessons learned from AMP. Any platform that imposes proprietary formats —no matter how well-intentioned— risks upsetting this balance.

See Also

The Plumber Problem: A Coder's Lament

Ever watched a hacking scene in a movie and cringed at how unrealistic it was? As someone who has spent years in the trenches of software development, these scenes are not just inaccurate; they're painful to watch. They're a caricature, a gross oversimplification of a complex and nuanced field.

Tools of the Trade

A Pen Addict episode discussed the importance of having the right tools for optimal productivity and simple elegance to them. Here's a list of the most important tools I use daily as a web developer.

The WET Codebase

Early in our careers, we're exposed to several principles which are thought of as hard rules one must abide by. And while constraints can yield innovation, they shouldn't be at the cost of having a maintainable codebase.