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Google Unveils 'AMP' -- Its Answer to Facebook's Instant Articles

Fast! Confusing!

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Just like Facebook, Google says it wants to speed up mobile Web browsing. So here’s the search giant’s solution: An open source project with a difficult name that’s supposed to make it easy to read stuff on your phone.

Re/code readers learned about Google’s “Accelerated Mobile Pages” project last month, and anyone who has been on Twitter this morning has been able to get more details, due to a strange approach to press conference/embargoes that Google has employed. So we won’t belabor it here.

But here are a few bullet points to keep in mind:

  • Google’s new format, which is supposed to work on multiple platforms and is supported by multiple publishers*, is live this morning, but is also in preview mode. This means you can find it by going to this weird url or if a publisher links to a page using it, but if you are using good ‘ol plain Google on your phone and you get a search result from a publisher that’s using the format, you might see an extra-speedy article. If this makes sense to you, you work at Google.
  • Unlike mobile publishing projects launched by Facebook, Apple and Snapchat, this one doesn’t directly generate revenue for Google — it won’t take a cut from ad revenue generated when people read a story using the new format.** “This is a deal-less environment. There are no relationships here,” Google News head Richard Gringras said at the event this morning.
  • On the other hand! In a demo of how its speedy articles might appear in search results down the road, Google showed off a carousel feature, highlighting articles from publishers that use the new format. So will Google reserve that theoretical space — which should be worth a lot to the people who theoretically occupy it — solely for publishers who use the new format? Not exactly, Gringras said. “We will not privilege a specific format.” But Google already rewards publishers whose pages load quickly, he said. So do the math.

Okay. So what does this mean for you, a reader looking at something on your phone? Not much, except things should go faster, Google insists.

Here’s a (theoretical) demo of how that might play out, via Nuzzel, a news discovery app that will start using the format. Nuzzel CEO Jonathan Abrams says Web pages that use AMP could load in half a second in his app, down from an average of three seconds. His developers have added a little lightning bolt to emphasize the speed, just for giggles:

Nuzzel Google Instant Article AMP

* Vox Media, which owns this site, is participating in this one.
** Unless, of course, Google is already getting paid to serve that ad, in which case it gets its normal cut. This is a good thing for Google and, many people say, one of the reasons Google is pushing this idea.

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