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.
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.