Ah, Google. A company once known for its “Don’t be evil” motto. They have been on a long, winding road that seems to have 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 turned out to be more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Back in 2015, Google introduced AMP as a way 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 it was Google that essentially 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 basically invisible. And let’s not forget that this move was so egregious that it became a key component in an antitrust lawsuit filed against Google in 2020.
From a developer’s perspective, AMP wasn’t just another framework; it was a straightjacket. It imposed strict rules on what could and couldn’t be done, stifling creativity and innovation. Developers had to learn a whole new set of guidelines just 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. I believe Chris Coyier hit the nail on the head 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 not forget the lessons learned from AMP. Any platform that imposes proprietary formats —no matter how well-intentioned— risks upsetting this balance.