Google AMP: What Price UX?

Google's AMP on several mobile displays

Recent developments such as Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, Facebook’s Instant Articles, and Apple’s Universal Links are creating opportunities for these web giants to move content access from the publisher’s domain into a singular location under their control.  This is ostensibly done in the name of improving user experience, but has interesting implications in terms of how that experience is being managed, both from the standpoint of the content publishers and the owners of the delivery platform.

Let’s consider the case of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).  As its name suggests, AMP is geared toward delivering content more efficiently to mobile devices.  As described in a January ClickZ article on the subject, “The AMP framework might just solve one of the biggest problems on the Web today: the fact that using the Internet on mobile devices is often a sluggish, unsatisfying experience, especially when publishers – driven by market pressures to monetize and acquire users – are free to add as many arbitrary external scripts as they wish.”

AMP seeks to accomplish this goal through two means.  First, it places strict restrictions on the elements that can be included in what is being published, focusing only on the most vital content.  On the one hand, this allows much faster downloads on mobile devices, and on the other, it means that content from multiple sources will share a similar template.  This plays directly into the second method for efficient content access, which is through content search on mobile devices.  Google will prioritize results on mobile devices that are AMP compliant, offering a seamless content delivery experience that delivers full-fledged content nearly instantaneously, and in a highly navigable format.

There are manifest user experience benefits from this arrangement.  Delivering content without delay is a significant consideration when trying to keep a user engaged, and having a consistent delivery platform and style for different content sources eases the burden on the user, making finding and navigating content an easier and more unified experience.

But there are also serious UX implications which are not so cut and dried.  If this were to develop into a new paradigm, control over the user experience would shift largely to Google and away from the actual content publishers.  AMP surely presents benefits to publishers, not only in the UX context already mentioned, but also in the primacy which Google gives it, driving more users to those publishers and away from non-AMP publishers.  But lost is a major degree of influence over user experience, as mobile users would no longer be operating within the publisher’s domain.  Also lost, to some extent, is the ability of publishers to derive ad revenue from its content, as their freedom to deliver ads is restricted by AMP.

What will be the outcome of this consolidation of content delivery?  Will user experience on the web be dominated by a few major houses, while smaller presences on the web either submit or are shut out?  What are the implications for the web as an interactive space?  As with all things internet related, we will probably find out sooner than we expect.