All posts in “Amp+”

Google takes AMP beyond basic posts with its new story format

For the most part, Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project was about what its name implies: accelerating mobile pages. Unsurprisingly, that mostly meant quickly loading and rendering existing articles on news sites, recipes and other relatively text-heavy content. With that part of AMP being quite successful (if not always beloved) now, Google is looking to take AMP beyond these basic stories. At its AMP Conf in Amsterdam, the company today announced the launch of the AMP story format.

The overall idea here isn’t all that different from the stories format you are probably already familiar with from the likes of Instagram and Snapchat. This new format allows publishers to build image-, video- and animation-heavy stories for mobile that you can easily swipe through. “It’s a mobile-focused format for creating visually rich stories,” as Google’s product manager for the AMP project Rudy Galfi called it when I talked to him last week. “It swings the doors open to create visually interesting stories.”To launch this format, Google partnered with CNN, Conde Nast, Hearst, Mashable, Meredith, Mic, Vox Media and The Washington Post. Like all of AMP, this is an open-source project and publishers can extend it as needed.

The idea here is to start surfacing AMP stories in Google’s search results over time. For now, though, this is only a preview that is meant to give developers and publishers time to support this new format.

Indeed, the first thing publishers will likely notice, though, is that there’s no tooling yet for building AMP stories. To some degree, that was also the case when Google first showed AMP for regular posts, though developers quickly wrote plugins for all of the popular CMS systems to support it. “Publishers that have been working with AMP stories managed to build fairly easy integrations with their existing CMS systems,” Galfi told us.

Even once tooling is available, though, publishers will have to create AMP stories from scratch. They can’t just easily recycle an existing post, slap on an image and call it a day. The success of the AMP story format, then, is going to be about making the right tools available for building these stories without adding overhead of developers, who are not necessarily all going to be happy about the fact that Google is launching yet another format that it may or may not support in the future.

It’s also still unclear how Google will surface these stories in search and how publishers can ensure that they’ll be included here. Because these AMP stories live separate from regular posts, Google will likely give publishers another means of pinging it when new stories go live.

For now, if you want to try an AMP story, head here and search for one by the launch partners. You’ll find AMP stories under the new “Visual Stories from” header in the search results.

While I’m not sure if publishers will fully embrace this format, I have to admit that the existing AMP stories I looked at made for a nice diversion. The Washington Post used the format to experiment with a timeline of North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, for example. Vox, unsurprisingly, used it for explainers, among other things, and Mashable probably went further than most by using video, sound and animations across most of its stories.

Google acquires Relay Media to convert ordinary web pages to AMP pages

AMP — Google’s collaborative project to speed up the loading time for mobile web pages — is getting an interesting acceleration of its own today. Relay Media, a company founded by an ex-Googler that had developed technology to help covert web pages to the AMP format, has been acquired by Google.

The company announced the news on its home page, to its customers (one of whom, Russell Heimlich, lead developer at Philly blog, tipped the news to us), and on its LinkedIn page. We have reached out to Google to get a statement and will update this post as we learn more.

For now, what we know is that it looks like Google may be closing down Relay Media as part of the deal but will continue to operate the service as the tech is transferred to Google’s platform. New-publisher onboarding will be put on hold for the time being it seems.

“We’re excited to announce that Google has acquired Relay Media’s AMP Converter technology,” the company writes. “Service for current customers will continue uninterrupted as we transition the Relay Media AMP Converter to Google’s infrastructure. We’re pausing new publisher onboarding as we focus on the integration effort.”

The note to existing users had only slightly more detail: some contact addresses for support and the indication that new AMP features would continue to be supported with Relay Media’s converter for now, although also with a warning:

“There’s no detailed roadmap for how the Converter may evolve over time, but we can assure you that if there’s a material change, you’ll get at least 90 days advance notice so that you can plan accordingly.” Those who continue to use it are now subject to Google’s terms of service and privacy policy.

It’s an interesting development for AMP, which Google has been building over the last couple of years as it looks for ways to show that the mobile web remains a viable alternative to building native apps. (Why? Because Google makes a lot of revenues from mobile search, so more people opting to use apps means less people opting for Google’s mobile search.)

The fact that Relay Media has been acquired now by Google is not too much of a surprise: I’m not sure longer term whether a business model offering a standalone conversion technology to run pages in AMP would ever be as viable as simply being a part of the bigger platform for which the conversion was originally intended.

Originally aimed at publications on the web, AMP has more recently extended to e-commerce and other kinds of online content. Google earlier this year said AMP was used on over 2 billion pages covering some 900,000 domains.

The promise of AMP is that pages using the coding can load twice as fast as regular pages, leading to less impatient abandonment by those trying to visit them.

The downside for publishers is that they have less control over how those pages look and can be monetised. One criticism has been that AMP pages (and their counterparts on other sites like Facebook’s Instant Articles) essentially take readers away from publishers’ own domains, and on to Google domains, and so the traffic becomes harder to measure.

Relay Media CEO and co-founder David Gehring has been involved in the AMP Project since its inception as an effort of the Digital News Initiative (DNI), a collaboration between Google and a group of leading European news publishers.  Gehring is a veteran of Google’s partnerships team and of The Guardian, and continues to advise the founding European DNI publishers on a range of economic and digital platform initiatives.

Relay launched its AMP-centric startup and business in May of 2016.

“We actually see favorable currents amidst the troubled waters of the digital ecosystem for quality publishers,” co-founder and CEO David Gehring said at the time.  “More users encounter content on the open mobile web than on desktop browsers or apps, and total mobile ad spending is now outpacing desktop. Programmatic CPMs are rising for quality publishers and viewable impressions.

“Unfortunately publishers’ ability to compete for revenue and engagement is impeded by cluttered, slow-loading pages and non-viewable ads. AMP is a well-timed opportunity to course-correct, providing the instant experience users desire and a clean, well-lit environment for monetization.”

Gehring knew a thing or two about the predicament first-hand: he had been involved in AMP as a Googler during its earliest efforts, when it was being built in collaboration with a group of European publishers involved in the the Digital News Initiative. (The DNI was part of Google’s efforts to work better with these publishers rather than face the wrath of regulators or those publishers deciding to delist their content altogether from Google searches.)

Before Google, Gehring had worked at UK publication The Guardian.

Gehring still lists Relay as his employer on his LinkedIn profile. Others from the startup are already noting new roles at Google.

We’ll update this as we learn more.

Google’s AMP now powers 2B+ mobile pages and 900K domains, loads 2x faster

As Google looks for ways to keep people using its own mobile search to discover content — in competition with apps and other services like Facebook’s Instant Articles — the company is announcing some updates to AMP, its collaborative project to speed up mobile web pages.

Today at the Google I/O developer conference, Google announced that there are now over 2 billion AMP pages covering some 900,000 domains. These pages are also loading twice as fast as before via Google Search. Lastly, the AMP network is now expanding to more e-commerce sites and covering more ad formats.

The advances serve as a counterbalance to some of the controversy that Google and others have courted through initiatives like this, which are optimised for user experience, but have been criticised for pointing people essentially to Google/Facebook/other domains and therefore taking traffic away from the sites themselves.

In a blog post announcing the news — published on WordPress, possibly to underscore how Google is trying to show this off as a collaborative, cross-company initiative? — Google takes a page from the Amazon school of stats and declines to disclose what the actual page load time is now via Google Search for HTML pages encoded with AMP (short for accelerated mobile pages).

But it notes that the improvement comes from changes that have been made at the backend, specifically with the AMP Cache, reducing bandwidth for images by 50 percent; and implementing a new compression algorithm called Brotli that Google announced in 2015 that reduces document size by 10 percent.

The list of sites that support AMP, meanwhile, has now had a massive boost with some of the latest additions focusing on social networking. 

Tumblr (which is owned by Yahoo, whose search engine points to AMP pages) is now pushing 340 million blogs and 500,000 domains to render in AMP on mobile. Twitter is also now linking to AMP pages in mobile web (when you click on links in Tweets), and plans to expand AMP links to its mobile apps soon. 

In Asia, Tencent’s Qzone (the largest social network in China) and Weibo (the third largest) now also rendering mobile pages using AMP.

Now that Google has established the basics of how AMP works for a wide swathe of pages, it looks like it’s stepping up its commercial gears in AMP. 

Specifically, it’s ramping up the number of e-commerce pages that are using the format, and it’s also expanding the number of ad units that AMP pages will support. 

The e-commerce expansions include eBay, which first introduced AMP support on about 15 million pages about a year ago and is now expanding to “millions more” including all of its product pages with a specific focus on adding name-brands and “Interest” pages that aim to give users more targeted results rather than the hodge-podge that you might otherwise see on the site.

Others who are adding AMP include Zalando in Europe, Myntra in India, and AliExpress in China.

The ads initiative, meanwhile, applies much of the same principle as the general page-loading times to the concept of advertising. Specifically, today Google is introducing coding for three new ad formats:

This is significant because one main reason that pages have crept to a halt on the web is because of advertising and the large amount of bloatware that accompanies them to measure what we do.

It’s led many people to implement ad blockers or browsers like Opera that block ads for you. 

For a company like Google, whose bread and butter is essentially online ads, this is an alarming trend, and so it’s no surprise at all that its efforts to improve the mobile user experience have moved into improving the mobile advertising user experience.

Of course, by writing the code for these new ad formats, it’s also putting itself in the middle of how those ads will be implemented, giving Google an ongoing place at the table for how the next generation of the mobile web will monetize.