Google AMP is Destroying The Open Web

AMP lets the gatekeeper control what’s beyond the gate

Rob Sturgeon
Dec 29, 2020 · 4 min read
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Image by 🎄Merry Christmas 🎄 from Pixabay

As far back as 2012 there was evidence that some people in Indonesia who were accessing Facebook on mobile devices thought that they were not internet users. They never used any website, but they used the Facebook app. In other words, they saw the web as an open system that could contain anything, but the walled garden of Facebook was entirely separate.

As Wired put it at the time, “Facebook is on the cusp of becoming a medium unto itself — more akin to television as a whole than a single network, and more like the entire web than just one online destination.” The internet.org website that Facebook used to introduce the web to entirely new markets still exists, but many countries pushed back on the idea of a company convincing the world that its closed system is the internet.

For those of us that had internet access before Facebook was created, the existence of the open web is a universally accepted fact.

But how do we find anything on the open web?

We Google it.

Dominating the browser and OS markets

It seems clear to me that Facebook was in a hurry to convince the online newcomers of the world that it was the internet for one reason above all others:

The rest of the world already tacitly believes that Google is the internet.

Last month Android became the biggest OS in the world. Many Android users use the Google Search app, as this is a convenient way to Google a question and get a fast answer. Users that experience the internet for the first time through Android phones may not ever choose a browser, because Google Search gives them everything they need.

On Android the Google Search app opens links in a Chrome Webview. This is essentially a window that uses Google’s open source Chromium project to render webpages just as the Chrome browser would. Google Search does not appear in any list of browsers and their dominance, as it probably gets measured as Chrome.

Regardless of what device or operating system they use, 64% of all web users choose Chrome.

The only company to even remotely challenge Google’s dominance is Apple, which currently commands a 19% share of the total browser market. This only exists because Apple prevents any browser engine outside of its own WebKit engine to operate on iOS. No matter whether you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Brave on iOS, you’re ultimately always using Safari.

Although consumer choice is an illusion on that platform, removal of this restriction would probably lead to a Chrome market share of over 80%, which is hardly a more competitive browser landscape.

Dominating the search engine market

It’s easy for Google to make its own search engine the default on Android. With apps like Google Search there isn’t any way to even change to another search engine. But what about on Apple’s operating systems? We now know that that Google paid Apple up to $12 billion for a search engine deal that disadvantaged competitors, according to the antitrust lawsuit filed against them in October.

This has probably contributed to the 91.54% market share Google has in search.

Dominating the open web

After years of dominating the way that people find content on the open web, Google had one last target:

Defining the way the web works.

We’re now 5 years into the existence of Google AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages. These pages use an ‘HTML framework’ that requires you to import a huge JavaScript file, and you must follow the AMP rules to be considered a valid AMP page. The img tag cannot be used except as a descendant of a <noscript> tag. This is because valid AMP pages must use the provided AMP tag <amp-img>, which independently decides when images should load based on performance and network speed.

According to The Register, “Pinboard founder Maciej Cegłowski already recreated the Google AMP demo page without the Google AMP JavaScript and, unsurprisingly, it’s faster than Google’s version.”

What about using your own JavaScript?

Excessive JavaScript can make websites slow and unresponsive. In order to control what JavaScript AMP pages load and when it executes, AMP’s validation rules forbid developers from running JavaScript in a webpage via a <script> tag.

Any JavaScript you use must be contained within an <amp-script>tag, and must work asynchronously.

No third-party JavaScript frameworks are allowed, with the exception of AMP’s library of course.

In the final phase of Google’s mission to become the internet, websites have few options if they want to get notice. Following the AMP rules, like removing any custom web components or analytics by anyone but Google, allows your content to (hopefully) appear in Google’s top stories carousel. You are essentially getting free advertising from Google as a result of being a good follower of the new rules of the internet.

AMP is open source, and it provides more flexibility than you would get on Apple News or Facebook. But those are known to be closed systems, and no one who is aware of the open web believes that those services are anything but closed systems. Being open source hasn’t stopped Android from becoming the world’s most popular operating system, but it has instead given it a developer friendly reputation.

We are dealing with the consequences of Google’s numerous monopolies.

Google is the internet’s gatekeeper, but it is also increasingly controlling what is beyond the gate.

The Big Tech

The best stories from the tech world

Rob Sturgeon

Written by

An iOS developer who writes about gadgets, startups and cybersecurity. Swift programming tutorials and SwiftUI documentation too. robsturgeon.com

The Big Tech

The Big Tech covers stories primarily from Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and more.

Rob Sturgeon

Written by

An iOS developer who writes about gadgets, startups and cybersecurity. Swift programming tutorials and SwiftUI documentation too. robsturgeon.com

The Big Tech

The Big Tech covers stories primarily from Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and more.

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