More than ensuring that news articles load instantly, Google's new Accelerated Mobile Pages format is a peace offering to online publishers as they battle ad-blockers and the temptation to lock away their content in platforms like Facebook.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is not a new technology, it's simply a streamlined approach to designing online articles. The simple aim is to ensure the content loads quickly, before everything else on the page, says Richard Gingras – Google's senior director of news and social products, who oversees Google News.
"The user came for the content, so let's make sure we give them what they came for," says Gingras – former chief executive of online publishing pioneer Salon.
"If the experience isn't instantaneous then the degree of reader engagement quickly declines and in our research we've found that 40 percent of users will abandon a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load the page."
In response to reader frustration over sluggish load times, publishers have begun to favour mobile apps and alternative platforms like Facebook Instant Articles. The AMP initiative is an open-source, non-proprietary response to this trend, launched last year by Google in partnership with dozens of major publishers around the world including Australia's Fairfax Media, News Ltd and NineMSN.
While the project is spearheaded by Google, Gingras is quick to emphasise that it is not coercing publishers and AMP will "succeed on the leadership of many, not the leadership of one".
That said, it is clearly in the search giant's own interests to ensure that online news remains a cornerstone of the open web, something which Gingras doesn't deny.
"Our relations with the publishing industry have evolved over time, there certainly has been friction along the way," he says, "but I think in this case the common objective was clear, we need a healthy World Wide Web."
"What we realised is if we made the pages really fast then it eliminated the need to 'distribute' the content, so you could say AMP is the web's response to how can it be as compelling as proprietary platforms."
As a result, the average AMP page loads four-times faster than its non-AMP equivalent and is one-tenth the size. The new format also puts the onus on advertising platforms to ensure their page elements load quickly.
"We'd like the ads to appear at the same time as the content but we want to put the spotlight on the advertisers to figure out how to do that," Gingras says.
"Within the advertising ecosystem there's not enough transparency when it comes to performance and it's really hard to analyse what's slowing your page down, but if you componentise the page then it becomes quite easy – if an advertisement is slow to load then it's the sole responsibility of the advertiser."
Ad-blockers are employed by 15 to 20 per cent of US web users, but AMP makes no effort to thwart them. Rather than embarking on technology a arms race with ad-blockers, Gingras says the responsibility lies with advertisers to stop serving ads which disrespect the user by being "more annoying than they are compelling".
"To us, ad-blockers are a symptom of ad behaviours which aren't what we'd like them to be," Gingras says. "Let's address those and eliminate the need for people to adopt ad-blockers at all."
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