Risking a Homogeneous Web

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I don’t think Microsoft using Chromium is the end of the world, but it is another step down a slippery slope. It’s one more way of bolstering the influence Google currently has on the web.

We need Google to keep pushing the web forward. But it’s critical that we have other voices, with different viewpoints, to maintain some sense of balance. Monocultures don’t benefit anyone.

This essay follows-up nicely on my concerns about Microsoft’s move from EdgeHTML to Chromium in Edge, but goes further to discuss some of the bigger problems of a homogeneous web, especially one under Google’s influence.

Rehabilitating Google AMP: My failed attempt

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by an author

This article is a follow-up to my article “Why Google AMP is a threat to the Open Web”. In the comments of that article I promised I’d soon provide a follow-up, and for reasons I’ll get into, that has not been possible until now – but now I’m finally providing it.

Back in February I wrote an article saying how I believed Google AMP has been imposed on the web by Google as a ‘standard’ for developing fast webpages, and my dismay about that. Google apparently developed this as an internal project without any open collaboration, and avoiding the W3C standardization processes. Google made implementation of Google AMP a requirement to show at the top of the search results for common news searches.

To many of us open web folk, Google’s AMP violated the widely held principle of search engines not putting bias into search results, and/or the principle of web standards (take your pick – it would not be bias if it was a standardized approach that the wider web community had agreed upon).

You know how I feel about AMP. I’m not alone, and others are doing a pretty good job of talking to Google about our concerns. Unfortunately, Google aren’t listening.

AMPstinction

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AMPstinction (adactio.com)
I’ve come to believe that the goal of any good framework should be to make itself unnecessary. Brian said it explicitly of his PhoneGap project: The ultimate purpose of PhoneGap is to cease to exist. That makes total sense, especially if your code is a polyfill—those solutions are temporary by d...

When Google first unveiled AMP, its intentions weren’t clear to me. hoped that it existed purely to make itself redundant:

As well as publishers creating AMP versions of their pages in order to appease Google, perhaps they will start to ask “Why can’t our regular pages be this fast?” By showing that there is life beyond big bloated invasive web pages, perhaps the AMP project will work as a demo of what the whole web could be.

Alas, as time has passed, that hope shows no signs of being fulfilled. If anything, I’ve noticed publishers using the existence of their AMP pages as a justification for just letting their “regular” pages put on weight.

Worse yet, the messaging from Google around AMP has shifted. Instead of pitching it as a format for creating parallel versions of your web pages, they’re now also extolling the virtues of having your AMP pages be the only version you publish:

In fact, AMP’s evolution has made it a viable solution to build entire websites.

On an episode of the Dev Mode podcast a while back, AMP was a hotly-debated topic. But even those defending AMP were doing so on the understanding that it was more a proof-of-concept than a long-term solution (and also that AMP is just for news stories—something else that Google are keen to change).

But now it’s clear that the Google AMP Project is being marketed more like a framework for the future: a collection of web components that prioritise performance

You all know my feelings on AMP already, I’m sure. As Jeremy points out, our optimistic ideas that these problems might go away as AMP “made itself redundant” are turning out not to be true, and Google continues to abuse its monopoly on search to push its walled-garden further into the mainstream. Read his full article…

Improving URLs for AMP pages

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Improving URLs for AMP pages (Accelerated Mobile Pages Project)
TL;DR: We are making changes to how AMP works in platforms such as Google Search that will enable linked pages to appear under publishers’ URLs instead of the google.com/amp URL space while maintai…

TL;DR: We are making changes to how AMP works in platforms such as Google Search that will enable linked pages to appear under publishers’ URLs instead of the google.com/amp URL space while maintaining the performance and privacy benefits of AMP Cache serving.

When we first launched AMP in Google Search we made a big trade-off: to achieve the user experience that users were telling us that they wanted, instant loading, we needed to start loading the page before the user clicked. As we detailed in a deep-dive blog post last year,  privacy reasons make it basically impossible to load the page from the publisher’s server. Publishers shouldn’t know what people are interested in until they actively go to their pages. Instead, AMP pages are loaded from the Google AMP Cache but with that behavior the URLs changed to include the google.com/amp/ URL prefix.

We are huge fans of meaningful URLs ourselves and recognize that this isn’t ideal. Many of y’all agree. It is certainly the #1 piece of feedback we hear about AMP. We sought to ensure that these URLs show up in as few places as possible. Over time our Google Search native apps on Android and iOS started defaulting to showing the publishers URLs and we worked with browser vendors to share the publisher’s URL of an article where possible. We couldn’t, however, fix the state of URLs where it matters most: on the web and the browser URL bar.

Regular readers may recall that I’ve complained about AMP. This latest announcement by the project lead of the AMP team at Google goes some way to solving the worst of the problems with the AMP project, but it still leaves a lot to be desired: for example, while Google still favours AMP pages in search results they’re building a walled garden and penalising people who don’t choose to be inside it, and it’s a walled garden with fewer features than the rest of the web and a lock-in effect once you’re there. We’ve seen this before with “app culture” and with Facebook, but Google have the power to do a huge amount more damage.

AMP Is Poisonous

If you’re a web developer and you haven’t come across the Google AMP project yet… then what stone have you been living under? But just in case you have been living under such a stone – or you’re not a web developer – I’ll fill you in. If you believe Google’s elevator pitch, AMP is “…an open-source initiative aiming to make the web better for all… consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms.”

I believe that AMP is fucking poisonous and that the people who’ve come out against it by saying it’s “controversial” so far don’t go remotely far enough. Let me tell you about why.

AMP logo in handcuffs

When you configure your website for AMP – like the BBC, The Guardian, Reddit, and Medium already have – you deliver copies of your pages written using AMP HTML and AMP JS rather than the HTML and Javascript that you’re normally would. This provides a subset of the functionality you’re used to, but it’s quite a rich subset and gives you a lot of power with minimal effort, whether you’re trying to make carousels, video players, social sharing features, or whatever. Then when your site is found via Google Search on a mobile device, then instead of delivering the user to your AMP HTML page or its regular-HTML alternative… Google delivers your site for you via an ultra-fast precached copy via their own network. So far, a mixed bag, right? Wrong.

What’s poisonous about Google AMP

Ignoring the facts that you can get locked-in if you try it once, it makes the fake news problem worse than ever, and it breaks the core concepts of a linkable web, the thing that worries me the most is that AMP represents the most-subtle threat to Net Neutrality I’ve ever seen… and it’s from an organisation that is nominally in favour of a free and open Internet but that stands to benefit from a more-closed Internet so long as it’s one that they control.

Google’s stated plan to favour pages that use AMP creates a publisher’s arms race in which content creators are incentivised to produce content in the (open-source but) Google-controlled AMP format to rank higher in the search results, or at least regain parity, versus their competitors. Ultimately, if everybody supported AMP then – ignoring the speed benefits for mobile users (more on that in a moment) – the only winner is Google. Google, who would then have a walled garden of Facebook-beating proportions around the web. Once Google delivers all of your content, there’s no such thing as a free and open Internet any more.

So what about those speed increases? Yes, the mobile web is slower than we’d like and AMP improves that. But with the exception of the precaching – which is something that could be achieved by other means – everything that AMP provides can be done using existing technologies. AMP makes it easy for lazy developers to make their pages faster, quickly, but if speed on mobile devices is the metric for your success: let’s just start making more mobile-friendly pages! We can make the mobile web better and still let it be our Web: we don’t need to give control of it to Google in order to shave a few milliseconds off the load time.

We need to reject AMP, and we need to reject it hard. Right now, it might be sufficient to stand up to your boss and say “no, implementing AMP on our sites is a bad idea.” But one day, it might mean avoiding the use of AMP entirely (there’ll be browser plugins to help you, don’t worry). And if it means putting up with a slightly-slower mobile web while web developers remain lazy, so be it: that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to help keep our web free and open. And I hope you will be, too.

Like others, I’m just hoping that Sir Tim will feel the urge to say something about this development soon.

AMP: breaking news

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Google has made much of their Accelerated Mobile Pages project as a solution to bloated websites and frustrated users. But could AMP actually be bad news for the web, bad news for news, and part of a trend of news distribution that is bad for society in general?

I didn’t start out as strongly anti-AMP. Providing tools for making websites faster is always great, as is supporting users in developing countries with lighter-weight pages that don’t cost them a month’s wages. It’s totally true that today webpages are in a pretty sorry state…