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Google announces Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) news publishing initiative

Wed 7 Oct 2015

At a press launch today Google announced its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) initiative – which is effectively ‘pushed edge-caching’ for news articles.

The company claims that its late entry into specific news publishing streams – as opposed to its Google News search offering – differentiates itself from the likes of Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple’s ‘Apple News’ because it is publisher-agnostic. On this aspect of the project Google Head of News Richard Gringras said ‘There are no business relationships behind the search results. That’s in contrast to Apple and Facebook’s news programs, which launched with a select group of limited partners.” *

News articles which are optimised through the AMP system will load much faster for two reasons – firstly, because Google’s edge-caching is the most pervasive and ubiquitous on the planet; and secondly because the pages will have been ‘baked’ in advance in much the same way that any caching system will take a ‘live’ web page and render every aspect of it until it is effectively 1997-style ‘flat’ HTML. In other words, rendering.

During the presentation Vice President of Engineering at Google David Bebris touched on this aspect; referring to the ‘crap that slows down many existing websites he said: “There’s an awful lot that is in the model, in the framework, to make sure that it’s not just a really great web page, but also that it can be distributed really well — that it can be prerendered, for example.”

A lot of that ‘crap’ is quite important to publishers, however, so it will be interesting to see what the rendering process costs in terms of currency for the hordes of satellite JavaScripts which gather round the reader as they scan the article, looking for data to crunch. Certain to be among these is Google’s own Analytics scripts ecostructure, for which provision has doubtless been made.

Among the other essential ‘crap’ that publishers will want to survive the rendering process (metrics and all) are ads, of which Bebris says that it is “really important” that ads continue to be functional with AMP-cached web pages, and noted “fundamentally, these are web pages — they can monetize through ads like any other web pages.” We shall have to wait for AMP to go live in order to see which excisions ‘fundamentally’ might imply.

The AMP project is only soft-launching today, and results from it will not yet show up in search results. However a developer preview of the open source code behind it has been made available on the GitHub code versioning repository.

Accelerated Mobile Pages are promised by Google to receive no special ranking privileges in search. Google’s traditional opacity about its search algorithm did not get penetrated during the presentation. Gingras noted: “There are many signals we use in generating results. One signal we use is indeed performance. What approach a publisher takes to achieve performance is up to them.”

*Google partners attending the event included vox.com, La Stampa, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed and Twitter, which promises deeper integration with AMP in the near future.

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