My Relationship with AMP HTML—It's Complicated

August 31, 2017 | Sam Armacost

When Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, was unveiled the fall of 2015, I was skeptical of the need to extend HTML, the building blocks of the Web. My experience with the haphazard adoption of CSS modules by browsers made me even warier of development hours being given to a project which changes the basics of HTML, while also being backed by a potential competitor (Google). The initial offering even lacked basic features which content creators have come to rely on, such as the ability to obtain analytics data

A Deeper Dive

After a deeper dive, I realized this drastic approach was a herculean effort to make websites load faster for all. As a front-end Web developer, making performant and accessible websites is at the core of my being. I often use Tron’s declaration as a mantra, “I fight for the users!” so I began to embrace and extol the virtues of AMP. Working within the constraints of limited JavaScript and CSS would not be without challenges, but the benefits to the end user in terms of bandwidth use, response time, and focusing on content seemed to outweigh these issues. AMP’s codebase became more robust, and I was seeing it used prominently by respected news organizations.

In my general use of the Web, I noticed AMP HTML everywhere. Most interestingly, I discovered when searching for information on my phone, the AMP logo appeared next to all the top search results. There was even a specialized “Top Stories” section if there was relevant news, or a similar scrolling area if I was seeking out a recipe. It seemed that not only would the use of AMP HTML speed up content load, but it was actually giving these pages a significant SEO boost. Even if it meant a bit more of an effort during initial site development, implementing AMP was shaping up to be a win-win for everyone.

The Controversial Side of AMP

Once my elation mellowed, I became clued into the controversial side of AMP. Some have questioned it on a philosophical level: in moving these assets to Google’s faster server we are debasing the linked nature of the Web, or it’s helping Google to scrape the Internet of other people’s content. Others are concerned about the security of serving up any third-party scripts, which AMP relies on. While the project is Open Source, many are concerned about Google primarily leading the AMP effort. If AMP is widely adopted, Google then becomes the architect of what a site’s HTML looks like, how users search to end up on that page, and where that content is hosted.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of AMP is how this control by Google can be exploited to add legitimacy to spurious content. This problem is not exclusive to AMP. Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, and AMP obscure aesthetic and contextual clues, such as the URL and design choices, which can mislead even the most seasoned consumer. In this time where soundbites have morphed into headline tweets and snaps, AMP and Instant Articles can—and do!—shape our thoughts and actions. 

Clash Between Creation & Creator

Suddenly, I felt betrayed by a technology that I had evangelized. What seemed like the way forward for better performance and overall experience for both users and content authors was actually subverting this hope to make the Web better by hindering accurate communication. The clash between creation and creator is not exclusive to AMP or Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. A supercomputer, like IBM’s Watson, created to help sift through text and data with natural language understanding, is not immune to absorbing information that deteriorates this intention. Even one of the architects behind the iPhone, Tony Fadell, wrestles with how a product he shaped can have lasting effects, “we have to be very cognizant of the unintended consequences, but also acknowledge them and then design them out—make sure that we are ethically designing.”

Bringing Optimization Into Focus for All

Despite this conflict, I still believe in the concepts behind the AMP team’s effort to bring optimization into focus for all involved in the creation of a website, making it not only a concern for developers. One of AMP’s primary contributors, Paul Bakaus, agrees that some of the aspects of AMP are not long term solutions but that AMP fixes significant issues for the mobile Web in the short term. Similar sentiments were expressed during AMP Conf earlier this year. It gives me hope to learn that the AMP team is listening to these concerns, making an effort to work through problems, all while preserving the goal of universally improving website performance.  

Additional reading: 

AMP Project

AMP Conference 2017 (YouTube Video Playlist)

"AMP," ShopTalk Show, Podcast Epiode 48

"Google’s AMP Is Speeding Up the Web By Changing How It Works," Wired

"Facebook and Google Make Lies as Pretty as Truth: How AMP and Instant Articles Camouflage Fake News," The Verge 

"Why Do Websites Publish AMP Pages?" Daring Fireball 

Daniel Meissler, "Google AMP is Not a Good Thing."

 "The Problem with AMP," 80x24

"Nest Founder: 'I Wake Up in Cold Sweats Thinking What Did We Bring to the World?'" Co.Design

"Tay (bot)," Wikipedia

"Why Microsoft's 'Tay' AI Bot Went Wrong," TechRepublic

 "Watson (computer)," Wikipedia

"IBM's Watson Gets a 'Swear Filter' After Learning the Urban Dictionary," International Business Times 


About the Author

Sam Armacost

I'm a Front-end Developer. When I'm not thinking about and working on websites (which is 24/7), I like to bake, garden, and hang with my cat Cornbeef.

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