We now spend more time on mobile gadgets than on desktop devices. The mobile web experience is more important than ever, and overwhelmingly defined by content relevancy, timeliness, and above all, speediness.
Mindful web developers—given adequate budget allowances—strive to build mobile-first sites that provide lean, engaging experiences across different screen sizes and devices. These sites better retain their audience because the experience is enjoyable and, in some cases, because impatient readers will leave (“bounce”) rather than wait for a clunky web page. Because Google recognizes its customers’ preference for performant sites, it factors pagespeed into its search algorithm, boosting speedy sites in search results.
In spite of these incentives to minimize page weight, most websites are heavier than ever. High resolution displays ushered in huge images, and universal support for custom typography has us downloading fonts everywhere. While the renaissance in front end toolkits like jQuery and React.js eases development and alleviates server-side scaling, it has done so at the expense of pushing more assets and processor strain to the browser. Most problematically, today’s website monetization and measurement tools often deliver heavy (and invasive) ads with little incentive to improve.
Much of this “bloat” has been obfuscated by our increasingly powerful devices, improving mobile broadband connections (especially among the “creative” class), and increasingly competitive browser technology. Even so, publishers are clearly testing (or even lazily trampling) acceptable boundaries, creating an opening for ethically gray solutions like iOS 9’s content blockers, and more closed platforms like Apple News.
Enter the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project: an open source initiative based on existing open web standards led by Google, touting noble intentions to improve the mobile web experience by providing standardized, lightweight guidelines and tools for developers. AMP HTML versions of web pages trade complex functionality and capabilities for lightness, simplicity, and a focus on content, resulting in near instant load times.
While there may be more transformative long-term potential for AMP as a framework, in the near-term, Google’s initiative is hyper-focused on improving news and media consumption. In essence, AMP competes with the self-contained, largely closed, and far more restrictive experiences offered by Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles, and the rumored “long-form format” coming to Twitter (among others). Publishers opting to offer AMP’s lean presentation will be rewarded with increased visibility in mobile search results for news, including Google’s News Carousel: the highly coveted positioning at the top of mobile search results.
Backed by Google and already in beta testing with some of the largest news organizations, AMP is poised to become a standard feature for content-centric websites.