Google loosens grip on mobile web

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Google loosens grip on mobile web

Accelerated Mobile Pages get new governance, handoff to a foundation likely in future.

Organisations that publish web sites tailored for mobile devices will likely use or have considered Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, an open-source effort to make web pages load faster.

AMP delivers on its promise of speedy delivery of web pages, even on flaky mobile networks, so has been widely adopted.

But it has also been widely criticized because it requires the use of a subset of HTML, plus some extra code developed by Google, and has AMP-encoded pages served by Google.

Further, as pointed out in an open letter to Google: “Content that ‘opts in’ to AMP and the associated hosting within Google’s domain is granted preferential search promotion, including (for news articles) a position above all other results.”

Google has defended itself against such criticism with its usual argument that all it wants is a fast, accessible, web for all users. As AMP is an open-source effort, that argument has some merit.

But criticism of AMP’s Google-centricity has persisted and now appears to have generated a tangible response in the form of a new governance model for the project.

As explained here by Malte Ubl, Google’s Tech Lead for the AMP Project, the advertising giant “initially focused on agility” when designing governance for the Project.

That meant Ubl himself “ultimately decided what got executed and how”. As he’s a technical lead, that meant developers’ voices were more highly-regarded than others.

But with AMP now widely used, Google and Ubl have decided to loosen the leash a little and pay more attention to people who can't talk in code.

“Instead we want to move to a model that explicitly gives a voice to all constituents of the community, including those who cannot contribute code themselves, such as end-users,” Ubl said.

Under the new model, the “power to make significant decisions in the AMP Project will move from a single Tech Lead to a Technical Steering Committee (TSC) which includes representatives from companies that have committed resources to building AMP, with the end goal of not having any company sit on more than a third of the seats.”

There’ll also be an advisory committee to advise the TSC and proper working groups for things like the project’s user interface, infrastructure and documentation.

“Additionally, we’re exploring moving AMP to a foundation in the future,” Ubl said, adding that “we see the governance changes as a first step in that direction.”

If Google does hand-off AMP to an independent foundation, and the new committees decide it should become more open, criticism may abate.

But even such efforts may be futile, because not everything AMP does relies on special Google tech.

AMP tricks such as not loading third-party JavaScript, only using small and well-expressed CSS or only loading images that describe their size aren’t exactly rocket science.

Skilled web developers and designers can therefore build pages that load with pleasing speed by following AMP’s precepts but without opting in to the project itself.

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