The Pros and Cons of AMP

As I progress towards the second anniversary of this blog, I’m learning new things about blogging all the time, like AMP, which I had never really paid much attention to before. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages, and it is a project launched by Google in 2015. AMP uses simplified HTML (hypertext markup language, the “code” of your webpage) and streamlined CSS (cascading style sheet) rules to make Google search results display more quickly on mobile devices.

I discovered yesterday that, many times when I use Google on my iPhone to search for and pull up one of my blogposts, it is now formatted differently than before. It would appear that Google is now delivering the AMP version instead. And to be honest, I’m not quite sure whether or not I like this.

Here’s a side-by-side, before-and-after comparison. On the left is what my blogposts used to look like on my cellphone (it’s using exactly the same fonts and design as if you were reading them on a desktop machine). But now, most of my Google search results on mobile come up looking like the image on the right (the AMP format).

Notice that the web address of the image on the left (my regular blogpost style) says “ryanschultz.com”, while the web address of the image on the right (the AMP version) says “google.com”. Google is serving a cached version of my content.

Now, the good news is that these AMP blogposts are supposed to load faster for mobile users, but the bad news is that the AMP display strips out several user navigation details I had deliberately put in, such as the the “sandwich” menu in the upper right hand corner of the picture on the left, which led people to my blog’s search box and to other areas of my site. The AMP version also strips out the three related blogposts links that appear at the bottom of each of my blogpost pages. In other words, AMP is removing many of the ways that users could navigate within my blog, instead forcing them back out into Google. Google is basically using AMP to drive more traffic back to itself, rather than keeping people clicking around within my blog, and exploring. I hate that.

According to the Wikipedia article on AMP, many developers have criticized aspects of the service:

AMP has been widely criticized by many in the tech industry for being an attempt by Google to exert its dominance on the Web by dictating how websites are built and monetized, and that “AMP is Google’s attempt to lock publishers into its ecosystem”. AMP has also been linked to Google’s attempt to deprecate URLs so that users will not be able to immediately see whether they are viewing a webpage on the open Web or an AMP page that is hosted on Google’s servers.

Now, there’s nothing stopping the user of the AMP page to click on the chain link icon found in the upper right hand corner (it’s right next to “ryanschultz.com”, below “google.com” in the image to the rght) and use that link to see the page as I really want them to see it. But really, who is going to be bothered to take that extra step? Most people just take the info they need and run.

So now I have a difficult decision: turn off AMP completely on my blog and give everybody the same design experience, or leave AMP on and give up some more control to Google (which, I might add, drives a significant amount of traffic to my blog).

So, what do you think? Does it matter to you which version of the blogpost you see when you search Google? I’m willing to bet most people didn’t even know about AMP and could care less, as long as they find what they are looking for. So (for now), I am leaving AMP turned on.

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The 30th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

Today’s Google doodle reminds us that today is the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web (WWW), better known today as simply “the Web” or even just “the internet” (although the internet itself existed long before then). The WWW made the internet accessible to many more people, leading to an explosion of websites (over 1.8 billion of them at last count).

In an editorial on the Google Arts & Culture website reflecting on the anniversary:

The world wide web was invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 – originally he was trying to find a new way for scientists to easily share the data from their experiments. Hypertext (text displayed on a computer display that links to other text the reader can immediately access) and the internet already existed, but no one had thought of a way to use the internet to link one document directly to another. 

Berners-Lee created the world wide web while he was working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. His vision soon went beyond a network for scientists to share information, in that he wanted it to be a universal and free ‘information space’ to share knowledge, to communicate, and to collaborate. You can find out more about how his work on the world wide web at CERN began, here.

Tim Berners-Lee’s invention, started on a single NeXT computer, revolutionized the way the world communicates and shares information. In fact, it’s hard to remember how we used to do things “before the Web”! Tim could have patented his invention and perhaps made a fortune from it, but instead he made it freely available for the world to use.

The first World Wide Web server, 1990

So today, remember to lift a glass to toast Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The world today would have been a very different place without his invention! Among other things, you wouldn’t be reading this blog 😉

UPDATED: Google Is Finally Yanking the Plug on the Failed Google+ Social Network

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Google’s failed experiment to create a social network to compete with the 800-lb. gorilla Facebook is over. Today the company announced that they are shutting down Google+:

Google+, a social network that we can certainly say existed and not much more, is slated for a long-overdue trip down the memory hole.

A ten-month sunsetting period was announced in a Google blog post today about increased security efforts, dubbed Project Strobe, which found a bug in Google+ that could have leaked some personal information users posted to their profiles, though according to Strobe’s analysis no one else was aware of or took advantage of the vulnerability.

That may have something to do with Google+’s relative obscurity as an online social destination. Despite integration with the company’s other, hugely successful products like Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube, Google admits usage is negligible. In the company’s own words, “90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.”

Given the potential for abuse, and the fact that almost no one is using Google+, Alphabet opted to take the path of least resistance and yank the doddering network off life support. Users (whoever they might be) have had plenty of time to download and migrate their data before the platform’s final days arrive in August of next year.

According to an article in The New York Times:

Google said it would shut down Google Plus, the company’s floundering answer to Facebook, after it discovered a security vulnerability that exposed the private data of up to 500,000 users of the service.

When the company’s technical staff discovered the bug in March, they decided against disclosing the issue to users because they hadn’t found anyone that had been affected, the company said in a blog post on Monday.

That decision could run afoul of relatively new rules in California and Europe governing when a company must disclose a security incident. In the blog post, Google said its “Privacy & Data Protection Office” decided the company was not required to report the security issue.

The incident could face additional scrutiny because of a memo to senior executives reportedly prepared by Google’s policy and legal teams that warned of embarrassment for Google — similar to what happened to Facebook earlier this year — if it went public with the vulnerability.

The memo, according to The Wall Street Journal, warned that disclosing the problem would invite regulatory scrutiny and that Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, would likely be called to testify in front of Congress.

I actually will be rather sorry to see Google+ go, but I can certainly understand the decision. Nothing can compare to the initial excitement when the social network launched, but the feeling of euphoria didn’t last very long. As I have written:

…I joined Google+ when it launched in the summer of 2011, and I immediately began having real conversations with people instead of avatars [on Second Life], participating in face-to-face in hangouts, and posting items that people enjoyed and thanked me for writing. That first year was a heady and exhilarating time, hard to describe to someone who wasn’t there.

But after that first year, things went rapidly downhill and usage dropped off precipitously. Hangouts, which were great fun and a novelty at first, did not catch on the way that Google obviously hoped they would. Eventually, Google+ became a virtual ghost town.

Now I’m going to have to sit down and figure out exactly how to back up all my Google+ posts (over 18,000 of them!). I don’t want to lose them. I guess I’d better figure out how to use Google Takeout to save my stuff…

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One group that will be hard hit by this decision is the Opensim Virtual community, which has been a primary source of information on OpenSim developments for years now. Perhaps Talla Adam will move the group over to Facebook, where any number of Second Life related groups seem to be doing well.

UPDATE Oct. 9th: Lauren Weinstein has written a must-read editorial on Google (the company) in general and Google+ (the platform) in particular on his blog: The Death of Google.

And a petition to save Google+ has already gathered over 10,000 signatures over on Change.org, but I personally don’t think it’s going to make Google change their mind:

Petition

Mike Elgan, who was a passionate user of Google+, writes:

Remember Yahoo? Twenty years ago, Yahoo.com got more traffic than any site on the internet. But it failed to evolve.

In place of evolution or innovation, Yahoo simply started buying everything with the intention of integrating it. But it was unable to integrate anything in a compelling way.

Eventually, Yahoo simply became the company that closed things. It quickly became clear that nobody should invest any time, energy or money into supporting or using Yahoo because whatever product you invested in would likely be shut down, killed off, closed for business.

Now, Google is the new Yahoo.

Google is the company that kills its own products.

Google’s M.O. is to launch some new product or service with great fanfare, convince it’s loyal fans to go all-in, allow those fans to devote countless hours with the product, then kill the product and leave the devoted fans with nothing.

They did it with Reader, Inbox, Answers, Lively, Glass, Orkut, Buzz, Wave, Nexus Q, Dodgeball and many others.

The closure of Google+ is the biggest slap in the face ever, by far.

Google told us Google+ was the future of Google. So we jumped in and engaged. Personally, I’ve spent thousands of hours lovely crafting publication-quality opinion pieces. This is what I do for a living, and I gave my time and labor over to Google+ for free.

Now, Google is going to flush all my work down the toilet.

Yours, too.

Google has been working hard for years to push away its most loyal fans. Now, Google is going even further.

In fact, the killing of Google+ is a perfect storm of Google’s vision vacuum. It’s driven by their antipathy toward passionate users, and also their failure to understand the human element generally.

Google has failed utterly with every social network they’ve ever launched, and the reason is that, culturally, Google simply can’t understand human beings.

I recently got rid of my MacBook Pro and bought a high-end Pixelbook. And I was leaning toward buying a Pixel 3. But now I’m off the fence. I’ll be buying iPhones from now on.

And I can’t even imagine what will happen when Google decides to kill Google Photos.

Google simply can’t be trusted.

Google is the new Yahoo, the company that kills its own products.

Which Google product is next?

Five Thoughts as Google Turns 20

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The original Google logo from 1998

Google was incorporated on Sept. 4th, 1998 in the garage of Susan Wojcicki (who is now the CEO of Google subsidiary YouTube), with an initial US$100,000 investment by Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim.

It’s hard to believe that this happened only twenty years ago. In those 20 years, Google (now known as Alphabet) has transformed society. The way we look for information. The way we ask for directions. The way we consume the news.

What lessons can we learn from the astonishing growth of Google?

First, those things which might seem unimportant at the time can have great impact. Larry Page’s PageRank algorithm, which relied on the links between web pages to determine the ranking of search results, was a simple idea that became very, very powerful. In fact, it spawned the whole industry of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is basically figuring out ways to improve your Google search ranking!

Second, never underestimate the power of networks. As the World Wide Web grew (and I remember a time when it was still called that!), the Google search engine only became more accurate and useful over time. The power of networks acts as an amplifier (you need no further proof of that than Donald Trump’s Twitter account).

Third, that being an early entry into a marketplace positions you for growth (call it “the Microsoft effect”). It’s not always true, but often enough, being first is better than being best when it comes to the Internet. As some entrepreneurs like to say: “ready, fire, aim”—it’s better to launch something early, then make constant adjustments to your course as you go along and learn from your mistakes. The fatal mistake is to wait until everything is perfect before taking action. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t wait.

Fourth, that a lot can happen in a short period of time. We tend to underestimate just how quickly things can change in today’s society. The pace of technology is accelerating. Think ahead to 20 years from today—Sept. 8th, 2038. It might seem far away. But every day, it comes a step closer. Who will you be in that world, on that day? If I am still alive, I will be 74 years old and retired, perhaps feeling insecure and afraid in my old age as civilization charges ahead without me. What will I have seen in those twenty years? What will I regret doing? What will I regret not doing? What should I have been paying attention to, while I was busy doing something else? What will I have learned?

Finally, remember that the actions of individual people do make a difference in this world. Sergey Brin and Larry Page had an idea, and that idea changed the world. Philip Rosedale had a dream, and his dream became a daily reality for millions of people on dozens of metaverse platforms. Never doubt for one second that you are not capable of that same miraculous feat, in countless different ways, every single day.

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The Google logo today