AMP and WordPress

AMP is a one of those technologies that you either love or hate. While you can be indifferent, it will come around to a point where to you’ll need to decide.

But what is it? Why the controversies and how does it help me?

I’ll try explain what it is, what it isn't, and what it could be.

Origins

It’s clear that we live in a society of instant gratification. However, “instant” is relative. When I got my first 1 mbps ADSL line, I was like “this is the future!” Pages would load in an “instant”. And it was. Back then, I was running slower. There was no rush. I had time. The world, was smaller.

Today, everything is bigger and louder. It’s all a rush to get the latest or you’ll miss it. The world is shrinking. Global events, are now local. Things that happen on the other side of the globe, are on our doorstep. And we need to know about these things, and need to know now.

Problem is, all this content is “bigger” and by bigger I mean data size. Many of us are using mobile devices with ridiculous display resolutions. My phone has a resolution twice that of my 27” monitor. You can’t simply use images and videos destined for standard desktop monitors. It will look pixelated. You need to have hi-res images and a minimum of 4K video.

All this means that you need to download the data before you can view it. So to combat loading heavy files, we use fancy lazy loaders, CDNs and other miracle technologies. That now instead of having heavy binary files, we’re left with heavy text files. Lot’s of them. We need a better solution.

Before AMP, there was (and still is) Facebook’s Instant Articles. Which, was aimed at instant loading of content shared on Facebook. The key difference is presentation. In Instant Articles, you almost have a standardized platform that you publish your content through. Either by using their API, or providing a secure RSS feed. Instant Articles does the rest. Instead of trying to make your pages load faster, you simply give your content to Facebook, and they wrap it up in a data loving way to keep it as small and fast loading as possible.
It’s only usable on the facebook platform, so users can view your content, but you remain on Facebook.

AMP does pretty much the same thing as Instant Articles. It makes for well structured, small, content rich and instant loading pages. However, unlike Instant Pages, you are required to create the markup, following the rules as to what you can and cannot use. You simply state your content is AMP compliant in the markup or provide a `<link rel=”amphtml”>` tag to the AMP version of the page. Google’s search index will pick this up during the crawl and add it to the AMP Cache.

And just like Instant Pages, where it keeps you in Facebook, AMP keeps you on Google. And that is where the controversy starts.

Controversy

The whole issue of keeping you on Google’s domain is seen as a business tactic to reinforce their dominance on the web. ( see http://ampletter.org/ )

This however, from my understanding, is not a business decision, but merely a technology limitation. I understand that you could possibly load the content in AMP format from your own server, but let’s be honest, your servers will not be as fast as what Google can do. And if it can, it’s probably costing you, so why not let Google get the bill?

This limitation, however, has been addressed in a talk at the resent AMP Conference (https://www.ampproject.org/amp-conf/), where a presentation on how Chrome is working on implementing Web Packaging, which aims to redirect the user to the content source domain, while injecting the cached content to the browser. Obviously, this could be tricky, since the cached data could be spoofed, so the whole process needs to work with secure signatures. (link to the important parts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr5cIRruBsc&feature=youtu.be&t=10m17s )

This means that the whole controversy becomes null and void. However, there is more to it so I’ll let you decide.

Getting Started

If you don’t mind Google picking up the traffic bill to deliver your content, or don’t really care about the current controversies, then how do you begin?

There are a few AMP plugins for WordPress. I have not personally tried them so can’t say how they work. But my understanding is that they allow you to create an AMP version of your content. I would recommend giving these a try if you have the time, as that will clarify the concept of format versioning; two version of your content.

The other option is to have an AMP compliant site. This one is way more tricky as it will require you to keep your site compliant with the AMP rules. Which, with WordPress, means that you probably can’t use any of the fancy plugin you’re probably already using. (for now)

Which ever way you decide, there are loads of technical difficulties ahead.

The Official AMP for WordPress Plugin

The AMP for WordPress is the official plugin being developed by XWP for Automattic and Google.