Google promises publishers an alternative to AMP

Google’s AMP project is not uncontroversial. Users often love it because it makes mobile sites load almost instantly. Publishers often hate it because they feel like they are giving Google too much control in return for better placement on its search pages. Now Google proposes to bring some of the lessons it learned from AMP to the web as a whole. Ideally, this means that users will profit from Google’s efforts and see faster non-AMP sites across the web (and not just in their search engines).

Publishers, however, will once again have to adopt a whole new set of standards for their sites, but with this, Google is also giving them a new path to be included in the increasingly important Top Stories carousel on its mobile search results pages.

“Based on what we learned from AMP, we now feel ready to take the next step and work to support more instant-loading content not based on AMP technology in areas of Google Search designed for this, like the Top Stories carousel,” AMP tech lead Malte Ubl writes today. “This content will need to follow a set of future web standards and meet a set of objective performance and user experience criteria to be eligible.”

AMP, in many ways, is a hack on top of the web that uses a smart combination of modern web technologies, iframes, a stripped-down set of markup and proxies to speed up pages. Now, with new standards like Web Packaging (you can think of it as a ZIP file for web content), Feature Policy (so developers can turn certain browser features on and off at will), Paint Timing and others, developers have tools to speed up their sites even more.

Google says it wants to highlight sites that use these technologies to feature non-AMP sites in its Top Stories carousel when and if they meet its performance and user experience criteria and implement these new standards. The AMP team stresses that Web Packaging, in particular, will allow it to instant-load pages outside of AMP.

To some degree, these new technologies clear a path for publishers who want to be featured in Google’s Top Stories carousel on mobile without having to use AMP. For now, though, the AMP team is also pretty clear about the fact that it can’t provide publishers a timeline for when Google itself will start implementing these changes. Many of the standards, after all, are still in flux.

Unsurprisingly then, Google continues to recommend that publishers bet on AMP for the time being. “We hope this work will also unlock AMP-like embeddability that powers Google Search features like the Top Stories carousel,” writes Ubl. “Meanwhile, AMP will be Google’s well-lit path to creating great user experiences on the web. It will be just one of many choices, but it will be the one we recommend.”

With AMP still being the recommended solution, though, some critics will surely wonder whether Google is simply interested in building and highlighting this second path to deflect people’s criticism of the AMP project. Having talked to the AMP team in the past, I’m sure that’s not the goal here, but given the community’s suspicions of AMP, that’s something the team will likely have to address sooner or later.

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