Google and lots of email industry professionals have made a big deal about AMP coming to Gmail, thus paving a path to some kind of amazing future where you can do websitey things in. your. inbox.
Probably, from that opener, you can tell how I feel about this.
Full disclosure — I’m in the camp of folks that hold the opinion that AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), in its current form, is bad for the web. Besides the fact that publishers kinda hate it (just like they kinda hate Facebook’s Instant Articles), its adoption poses some very real threats to the open web we know and love, creating a Balkanized version that exists entirely within Google’s sphere of control. Just as on the web, AMP poses similar problems for email, along with some new ones. Let me talk about one in particular.
My chief criticism of the use of AMP — or, more generally, interactivity — in email is the supposition that emails and websites are equivalent. Or, at least, that they should be. But the fact is that emails aren’t websites.
Email is transitory, and arguably works best as a waystation on a person’s journey on the web. To that end, the goal of good email marketing should be to move people out of their inboxes and onto websites, where a more comprehensive customer experience can be provided.
Wistia’s Ezra Fishman wrote a short article that touched on this idea back in 2014, when email marketers were positively beside themselves over the prospect of embedding video in emails:
Imagine you’re watching a video embedded in an email, and then the video ends. What do you do next? Most likely, you archive the email and move on. From a marketer’s point of view, that’s a big missed opportunity.
Getting people to watch our videos and read our content is great, but I want a lot of things that can’t be accomplished from my viewer’s email client.
Emphasis mine. Is AMP really going to provide a way for people to do lots of things within the inbox? I don’t think so. Not in the sense Ezra means. AMP will certainly provide a way for people to do more things, but I don’t yet see it providing a path for truly meaningful engagement within the inbox.
Take this example of an AMP-powered email from Pinterest:
It seems a compelling demonstration, but on further consideration strikes me as fairly shallow; yes, a person can pin something to a board, but what is preferrable about them doing it here, in the inbox, versus Pinterest itself?
It’s on the site where the full power of its architecture and the talents of its development, design, and user experience teams can be brought to bear in order to deliver a complete experience. Shouldn’t a marketer’s goal be to get a person to the site instead? If it’s me, I don’t see value in trading the depth of experience I can provide on my site or application for the fairly thin one I’d be building entirely within Google’s realm.
Now that I’ve taken so very many steps into the realm of the Luddite, let me take a small step back.
Where I feel AMP for Gmail can shine is in facilitating microinteractions to reduce friction in a person’s workflow. One of the interactions that immediately comes to mind was touched upon in the demonstration from Doodle:
This example makes sense to me, being built around the small and very specific task of soliciting the selection of a meeting date from a person. I can see usefulness of the same application of this principle in a simple RSVP or the good ol’ one-to-five-star review, along with other patterns where the solicited interaction is really light.
Another compelling use for AMP is in pulling live (or more fresh) content into an email. Online travel agencies and airlines are, I’m sure, chomping at the bit for this ability to show up-to-date room and flight prices. Ultimately, though, I’m still brought back to the idea that a successful marketing email should get people out of the inbox; if you’re in the business of filling hotel rooms, it seems wiser to get people to your site where you can expose them to many more properties, than to serve an anemic selection within the inbox.
William Chou, an engineer working on AMP, wrote a bit on Github about Google’s motivation for introducing this technology to Gmail. What jumped out at me was this line:
Our goal is to enhance and modernize the email experience…
I feel that if that were truly the case, Google would start with equalizing the experience of email across their various platforms and apps, not introducing more fragmentation into an industry and ecosystem that has starved for greater standardization and unity for more than a decade. As a concept, email doesn’t need modernization any more than a fork does, because email is modern — its simplicity of purpose has ensured that. What is in need of modernization is the foundation of the industry along with the ways marketers use email.
Google exercises a lot of power over the web, and it could absolutely put that power to good use. They could reignite the fight to bring web standards to email and supercharge a top-down, industry-wide effort to make it so that building email with tables is made a thing of the past. They could leverage the years of knowledge and mountains of data they have to publish recommendations for marketers in an effort to make email, as a whole, suck less.
Instead, Google is attempting to extend its borders and reach further by dressing up greater fragmentation as innovation and selling marketers on the idea that including carousels in their emails will, somehow, turn what they send into gold.