I was ambivalent about Google AMP until yesterday. Up till then my opinion of it was based on my experience as a reader. I liked the super-fast loading pages, the consistent, clean formating, and the banning of third-party scripts (which occasionally could increase a page load time by seconds.) There was advertising, but there wasn’t any obnoxious pop-up, hard-to-close ads. I didn’t like the difficulty of sharing posts. Every time I wanted to share and Tweet an AMP page, I had to work hard to find the actual, non-Google, link to the page.
Then yesterday I received an interesting comment on this blog:
Is google hijacking your website ? (Shows it, but from their server, not yours)
And how did u prefill my email ? This is getting really weird. I’m notifying, consumer protection agencies.
The commenter added a link to a screenshot of the post as he saw it and sure enough, it was hosted on Google France and as far as I could tell was an AMP page. I can only interpret their anger at a prefilled email as perhaps being logged in on Google, Chrome, or WordPress in some manner. Yet this comment speaks to an interesting dilemma: the optimization vs the ownership of content and the perception of that ownership. In order to get that fast, clean page, Google strips away much of the branding and formatting that made it unique.
It also leads to less attachment to a news source, not just because the pages lack much branding, but also because AMP pages make it very difficult to continue browsing the source site. The AMP pages are, to users, part of Google. They’re similar to Facebook’s Instant Articles, another attempt to create fast loading content but keep it in Facebook’s garden.
To publishers, especially mainstream media, already fighting for attention in a crowded space, competing against new, upstart content sites, and trying to establish credibility with new and old readers, this is another hurdle. By only showing a single, disconnected article, it reduces brand recognition and erodes trust, plus it doesn’t allow publishers to build up a fan base. The only advantage Google AMP has over Facebook for publishers is that it might be easier to optimize for SEO, whereas Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm is harder to anticipate. Yet neither will help them in the long run. It’s another benefit for smaller, lesser-known publishers and in today’s media landscape, that isn’t necessarily a good thing.