Publishers around the world use the mobile web to reach these readers, but the experience can often leave a lot to be desired. Every time a webpage takes too long to load, they lose a reader—and the opportunity to earn revenue through advertising or subscriptions. That’s because advertisers on these websites have a hard time getting consumers to pay attention to their ads when the pages load so slowly that people abandon them entirely.
I completely understand the need for this project – the web is slow and advertising is such a key revenue source for publishers that these adverts are ruining the experience. Facebook’s Instant project is designed to do much the same thing. AMP is not a new idea.
Technically, AMP builds on open standards and allows you to simply replace some parts of your build and some components of your system with AMP versions of those pages. What happens with these pages is the secret sauce – Google knows of these pages, and if they pass the AMP tests it caches versions of those sites on its own servers.
Have a look at these two search pages. Both are searches for “Obama” on a Nexus 5 (emulated). The one on the right is the current search page, the one on the left is with AMP articles.
Notice where the first organic listing is in each page. Currently, it’s just below the first page, but with AMP, it’s over two screens of content away! That’s absolutely massive, and for anyone not in the top 3 results, they may as well not be there.
Basically, if you’re not an AMP publisher, expect your traffic to drop, by double-digit percentages.
Short-term benefits, Long-term harm
Short-term, AMP will make publishers sit up and take notice of web performance, it’ll make websites faster across the board, and make more customers use Google. For users, this is a win/win situation.
I’ve come to the conclusion that this project is harmful to the web in the long term. If a publisher isn’t getting traffic because it’s all going to AMP publishers, then the amount of content on Google drops, quality drops and is put into these large content producers. You end up with less diversity in the web, because small producers can’t make money without using AMP. Even in the end when you’ve only got a few publishers who can survive, they will be encouraged to reduce adverts, or be limited to the subset that Google’s DoubleClick deem performant enough to be included in the AMP-friendly set of advertisers. This may block the big-money adverts, which keep these sites going.
It also creates dependencies on Google, and whilst it’s unlikely to go down any time soon, being cached on their servers and allowing for only the most basic tracking mechanism, and only for browsers that Google supports. It creates a two-tier system that the web is firmly against.
This project seems to polyfill a developer/organisation’s lack of time to dedicate to performance. Many very clever people are working on this education problem (hello to Path to Perf, Designing for Performance and PageSpeed) though it will take time. Short-term fixes like AMP and Facebook Instant are encouraging developers to take shortcuts to performance, handing their problems off to Google. This does nothing for the underlying issues, but with Google giving AMP such prominence in its search results, how can publishers resist?
Or is it a temporary solution
I hope that from all of this, developers sit up and take notice of web performance; improve their sites and provide a better experience for all. If we don’t, Google will keep solutions like this around, leaving the only content that gets interaction as the content that Google approves of – and no one wants that.
Another year, another State of The Browser – now in its fifth year, it’s a conference for the London Web development community. It’s aimed at the masses, we want it to be accessible to all and have really great speakers, and this year was no exception to those rules.
In its inception, SOTB was a chance for the browser manufacturers to get together and talk about the latest and greatest things in their browsers to a wide audience. A lot of this mandate is being done (very, very well) by Edge conference, organised by our friends at London Web Performance. So, this year, we went back to our roots, the community that LWS is built upon, for talks about the browser, new browsers, new technology, and new ways of working. I’m really pleased with how it worked out, and we had a really high quality of submissions (my fellow organiser Morena Fiore-Kirby covers this really well in her write-up) it’s a shame we couldn’t fit more in.
This also meant that we could feature more new speakers and I’m really happy that we did. LWS has a long history of being the place where great speakers have done their first gigs (Pete Gasston, Laura Kalbag, and apparently Jake Archibald did a talk in the very early days – to just name a few) and I hope this tradition will continue. We were very pleased to welcome Martin Jakl (@JaklMartin) and Laura Elizabeth (@laurium) to the stage, mentored by Pete and Solé, they both did a great job with their talks. They’ve both got bright futures so watch out for them.
I’m very happy to say that my surprise of the weekend was Chris Heilmann. Other than his incredible generosity in giving away 10 years worth of tech swag (see below) he gave the best talk that I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear him give. He seemed truly passionate about his new product, Edge, and the people that he works with to make the web better, fixing not just the web that you and I see, but also internal websites, massive SAP systems and changing web standards culture in huge corporations. If I hadn’t already been standing, I’d have stood up to applaud him and what the Edge development team have done. Thank you.
Thanks to everyone who came along and were such a friendly bunch of people. We got lots of great feedback, and I can’t wait to do it again next year!
p.s. The whole event was live-streamed, and we have videos of the whole event too – the first half is already up on the @webstandards Vimeo page with the rest to follow shortly. A massive thank you to our live events team Pete Wood and company who always do an amazing job. Thank you!
I was lucky enough to attend Edge Conf in London this year, a day that I always truly enjoy. The main sessions of the conference were streamed live and videos will be available later, but the break-outs weren’t recorded. These were the sessions I enjoyed the most and it’s a shame that people won’t see them without being there – so here’s my notes on what was said to the best of my ability (and with a big hat tip to George Crawford for his notes). Patrick Kettner was the moderator.
Q: How can we use the masses of data that RUM collects to get businesses to care about performance?
Business leaders like metrics from companies that they can relate to (i.e. Amazon, eBay) but these aren’t very useful metrics as the scale is completely different. Finding stats from competing or relevant companies is hard, so how do you make them care?
Introducing artificial slowness is one way to convince people, but not good for business. There’s also the risk that you may not see increase in conversion from speed improvements! Filmstrips are incredibly useful at this point to see what’s going on and these are available in Chrome Dev tools in the super secret area.
Showing videos to business people makes it really hit home – people hate it when they can visibly see their site suck. It’s like making people watch a user test for their site. Shout out to Lara Hogan at Etsy (their engineering blog is awesome) for their great work on this, something that Yell has copied.
Metrics that are useful: first render, SpeedIndex, aren’t available in the browser. Using SpeedCurve can really make business people sit up and take notice of performance because it’s a pretty interface to those things.
All-in-all, the standard metrics are unlikely to be the best for you, so add in user timing markings (and a very simple polyfill) and graph those, including sending them to WebPageTest so you can measure the things that are important to you over time. This was done very successfully by The Guardian (hat tip Patrick Hamann).
Q from Ilya Grigorik: The browser loading bar is a lie, yet users wait for it. What metric should it use?
Basically, developers can put their loading after the onLoad event to hack around the loading spinner. If we stop the spinner at first render, it’s not usable. If we stop it at when the page can be interacted with when would that be? The browser runs the risk of “feeling slower” or “feeling faster” by just changing the progress bar. Apparently there’s one browser that just shows the bar for three seconds, nothing more.
No real consensus was reached here, but it was a very interesting discussion
Q: Flaky or dropped connections are important to know about for performance metrics – what can the room say about their experiences gathering offline metrics?
When the FT tried this with their web app they often exceeded localStorage sizes and sometimes POST sizes (25MB) as users could be offline for a week or more. The Guardian had good success with bundling beacons up into one big post to save money with Adobe Omniture/SiteCatalyst.
The best solution is the Beacon API (sendBeacon) which promises to deliver the payload at some point (which images/XHR don’t right now). It’s implemented in Google Analytics, you just have to enable it in the config, other tracking providers don’t have it right now.
Q: What metrics APIs are missing in browsers?
A unique opportunity to ask Ilya to add APIs into Chrome – not to be passed up
Performance Observer – a subscribable stream of events that will need processing to be useful. This will give accurate frame-rate
Network error logging API – could work like an error reporter that posts to a configurable second origin (via a header like CSP)
SpeedIndex, or a proxy for it. There’s a script for this already but it’s not massively accurate. Standardising SpeedIndex would be great.
First Paint – according to Ilya it’s not possible and quite subjective browser-to-browser
I’d have loved to stay and chat more (nice to meet Tim Kadlec in person, shout out to the Path to Performance podcast as well), it’s rare to have a lot of the web performance community in the same room at the same time and should definitely happen more often.
I’ve been really interested in wearables since I saw the first press shots of the Moto 360. When wearables first appeared (the Pebble, Galaxy Gear) they were the equivalent of a calculator watch – quite useful for adding things together, but awful at telling the time and even worse for your sex life. They were blocky, had incredibly poor battery life and not something you’d even consider wearing on a night out. The Moto 360 made me take notice – a well-designed and, importantly, watch-like appearance gives it the credibility that it deserves. So, when I got the chance to try one for a weekend, I couldn’t pass it up.
My regular watch and the Moto 360
The Moto 360 was a lot different to my regular watch. All dressed in black with a thin leather strap, it’s a far cry from my tiny, battered metal Swatch timepiece. At first I was pleasantly surprised by its feel – very comfortable to wear and lightweight, I hardly noticed it was there. It’s certainly a lot larger than my normal watch but I quickly got used to the differences, and got on with my day.
Initial setup was ok, it took two goes to connect over Bluetooth, but it was mostly painless. Then the notifications started raining in – Google Now bombarding me with reminders, weather updates, emails, Twitter, Facebook Messenger and more. At first it was overwhelming, and I wasn’t used to the swipe-to-dismiss, or scroll on to ignore motions. With a bit too much going on the watch also regularly janked and slowed down, not reacting to my input, which was far more frustrating.
The first day
As a watch, it’s really pretty poor
I spent most of the Friday in the office working at my computer. I’d be getting notifications on my phone and on the watch and on my laptop – it was all a bit much. I’d also put my normal watch back in my bag, so telling the time got quite hard. As a watch, it’s really pretty poor. Telling the time it the one thing that watches are supposed to be good at and every time I turned to look at my wrist I’d see a black screen, then about a second later, finally, I’d see the time. Frankly, that’s unacceptable and is one of the real issues that I struggled with during the first day.
I also played quite a lot of music on that day, and controlling that with the watch sounded like a good idea. In practice, I pressed the pause button on my headphones – much faster and far more convenient. It’s another example of a problem that the watch solves that has already been solved in better ways.
In the evening I had a play and found a whole host of useful settings that made the rest of the weekend far more pleasant:
Smart unlock – phone is unlocked when near the watch, no more typing in your passcode
Ambient clock – the watch is always a watch telling you the time
Only show notifications on the watch – no double/triple notifications
Silent mode – no noise, just a light vibration on your wrist when something happens
During the party the watch went pretty-much unnoticed… It was just a normal watch that people paid no attention to.
This was a big day in the Workman household, we were throwing a party and I was on BBQ duty. We were running around getting things ready, so without time to check our phones regularly, it was nice to have messages popping up on my wrist. Trying to send a message back to someone with my voice was a case of hit-and-miss, so after a few tries I gave up and returned to my phone. It was just a bit too noisy for my watch and it couldn’t understand me properly – at this point the “Open on phone” action came in handy and the watch fell back to being a secondary screen.
I played with a few apps today, and some worked, most didn’t:
First-party apps such as Google Keep, Play Music and Maps were great
The heart rate monitor only gave a reading a few times, never really changed.
Google Fit was interesting, but my Fitbit was more accurate (I believe)
PlayerFM (podcast app) was the only third-party app that worked really well
Wunderlist only showed me the inbox, did nothing else, crashed a lot
TripAdvisor showed me items in my area (after a lot of waiting). That’s not what I use TripAdvisor for, I go looking for things in other places, so that one was useless as well
Amazon’s wear app only works in the USA
During the party the watch went pretty-much unnoticed. It was nice to see who was at the door by who was calling me (and the dog announcing their arrival), but it was only in the small hours of the morning that someone said “is that one of those smart-watches”. To me, the watch passed a very big test that day – acceptance. It was just a normal watch that people paid no attention to. A piece of technology that is so obvious on your body but that doesn’t garner a reaction is what I wanted. It’s not a big thing, it’s just a watch.
The watch’s battery lasted the whole party, which is more than can be said for my phone (Moto X 2nd gen). It passes that test for me.
That ability for it to blend into the background is something that I didn’t really appreciate before, but really welcome.
The morning after, a little worse for wear, the watch was starting to feel more natural. I didn’t get many notifications, and I felt a lot more relaxed with it. I started weighing up whether I would buy one or not.
We went for a bike ride along the river in the afternoon and the watch stayed out of the way. I could have used it to track my heart-rate, or my journey, but I wasn’t interested in that at all, I just wanted to go for a bike ride, and the watch stayed out of the way – it became just another watch again. That ability for it to blend into the background is something that I didn’t really appreciate before, but really welcome.
I came into this experiment wanting this very watch, and I come out the other side thinking that I still want one, but not that one, and probably not the next one either. The problem isn’t so much the watch – it could be prettier, smaller, more like a watch, but it’s the software. It’s still unintuitive and the apps on there aren’t really apps. It’s a glorified notification reader, with a few really nice features. It’s really bad at telling the time, but that’s not its primary function. I almost feel that I need a watch and then need an Android watch. Third party apps really jank the watch and are so hard to find that it took me a few hours to really start exploring the watch’s capabilities. Android Wear needs more testing – the watches need more CPU/memory power, and developers need to test it out in the real world more. It has to come up with a better solution for “being a watch” which was just unacceptable.
Handing it back
I handed the watch back this morning and now have my watch back on my wrist. It’s heavier than I remember, but I can look down and know what the time is instantly. It serves its purpose.
I don’t miss the Moto 360. I still want one. I don’t want that one. I wish I wanted one more, but I don’t. It has so much promise, but right now, I’m happy to give it back.