What happened when we disabled Google AMP at Tribune Publishing?
Shockingly little. So you should try it, too.
Shockingly little. So you should try it, too.
I remember trying to convince people to use semantic markup because it’s good for accessibility. That tactic didn’t always work. When it didn’t, I would add “By the way, Google’s searchbot is indistinguishable from a screen-reader user so semantic markup is good for SEO.”
That usually worked. It always felt unsatisfying though. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter if people do the right thing for the wrong reasons. The end result is what matters. But still. It never felt great.
It happened with responsive design and progressive enhancement too. If I couldn’t convince people based on user experience benefits, I’d pull up some official pronouncement from Google recommending those techniques.
AMP is currently dying, which is good news. Google have announced that core web vitals will be used to boost ranking instead of requiring you to publish in their proprietary AMP format. The really good news is that the political advantage that came with AMP has also been ported over to core web vitals.
Take user-hostile obtrusive overlays. Perhaps, as a contientious developer, you’ve been arguing for years that they should be removed from the site you work on because they’re so bad for the user experience. Perhaps you have been met with the same indifference that I used to get regarding semantic markup.
Well, now you can point out how those annoying overlays are affecting, for example, the cumulative layout shift for the site. And that number is directly related to SEO. It’s one thing for a department to over-ride UX concerns, but I bet they’d think twice about jeopardising the site’s ranking with Google.
I know it doesn’t feel great. It’s like dealing with a bully by getting an even bigger bully to threaten them. Still. Needs must.
I don’t know if AMP is quite dead yet, but it feels like it would be a mercy to press a pillow down on its face.
Google’s stated intention was to rank sites that load faster but they ended up ranking sites that use AMP instead. And the largest advertising company in the world dictating how websites can be built is not a way to a healthier and more open web.
Core web vitals from Google are the ingredients for an alphabet soup of exlusionary intialisms. But once you get past the unnecessary jargon, there’s a sensible approach underpinning the measurements.
From May—no, June—these measurements will be a ranking signal for Google search so performance will become more of an SEO issue. This is good news. This is what Google should’ve done years ago instead of pissing up the wall with their dreadful and damaging AMP project that blackmailed publishers into using a proprietary format in exchange for preferential search treatment. It was all done supposedly in the name of performance, but in reality all it did was antagonise users and publishers alike.
Core web vitals are an attempt to put numbers on user experience. This is always a tricky balancing act. You’ve got to watch out for the McNamara fallacy. Harry has already started noticing this:
A new and unusual phenomenon: clients reluctant (even refusing) to fix performance issues unless they directly improve Vitals.
Once you put a measurement on something, there’s a danger of focusing too much on the measurement. Chris is worried that we’re going to see tips’n’tricks for gaming core web vitals:
This feels like the start of a weird new era of web performance where the metrics of web performance have shifted to user-centric measurements, but people are implementing tricky strategies to game those numbers with methods that, if anything, slightly harm user experience.
The map is not the territory. The numbers are a proxy for user experience, but it’s notoriously difficult to measure intangible ideas like pain and frustration. As Laurie says:
This is 100% the downside of automatic tools that give you a “score”. It’s like gameification. It’s about hitting that perfect score instead of the holistic experience.
And Ethan has written about the power imbalance that exists when Google holds all the cards, whether it’s AMP or core web vitals:
Google used its dominant position in the marketplace to force widespread adoption of a largely proprietary technology for creating websites. By switching to Core Web Vitals, those power dynamics haven’t materially changed.
We would do well to remember:
When you measure, include the measurer.
But if we’re going to put numbers to user experience, the core web vitals are a pretty good spread of measurements: largest contentful paint, cumulative layout shift, and first input delay.
(If you prefer using initialisms, remember that CFP is Certified Financial Planner, CLS is Community Legal Services, and FID is Flame Ionization Detector. Together they form CWV, Catholic War Veterans.)
I’ll say again: deprioritizing AMP in favor of Core Web Vitals is a very good thing. But it’s worth noting that Google’s taken its proprietary document format, and swapped it out for a proprietary set of performance statistics that has even less external oversight.
Google provided a distinct advantage to sites using AMP – priority placement on the world’s largest traffic source – Google search. I’ve had the pleasure of working with more than twenty thousand publishers in the five years since AMP’s launch, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a single reason that a publisher uses AMP other than to obtain this priority placement. Let me package that up for you – Google, the most dominant search engine globally – used that dominant market position to encourage publishers to adopt technology so that Google could store and serve publisher’s content on Google’s domain. How is that legal? Well, I’m not a lawyer, but it possibly isn’t.
The death of AMP can’t come soon enough.
If you’re currently using AMP, you’ll be able to get rid of that monstrosity in May, and if you aren’t, you’ll now be competing for search positions previously unavailable to you. For publishers, it is a win-win.
What’s important is that you test it with real users… and stop using hover menus.
During the workshop, several online publishers indicated that if it weren’t for the privileged position in the Google Search carousel given to AMP content, they would not publish in that format.
More great reporting from Adrianne Jeffries at The Markup.
An engineer at a major news publication who asked not to be named because the publisher had not authorized an interview said Google’s size is what led publishers to use AMP.
Goodhart’s Law applied to Google’s core web vitals:
If developers start to focus solely on Core Web Vitals because it is important for SEO, then some folks will undoubtedly try to game the system.
Personally, my beef with core web vitals is that they introduce even more uneccessary initialisms (see, for example, Harry’s recent post where he uses CWV metrics like LCP, FID, and CLS—alongside TTFB and SI—to look at PLPs, PDPs, and SRPs. I mean, WTF?).
Good news: as of May 2021, page speed (or core web vitals, if you must) will be a ranking factor in Google Search.
Even better news: at the same time, Google AMP will lose its unfairly privileged position in the top stories carousel. Hopefully this marks the beginning of the end for Google’s failed experiment in forcing publishers to use their tech.
This is a handy tool if you’re messing around with Twitter cards and other metacrap.
This is excellent news for sites that were strong-armed into creating AMP pages just to get into the Top Stories carousel:
As part of this update, we’ll also incorporate the page experience metrics into our ranking criteria for the Top Stories feature in Search on mobile, and remove the AMP requirement from Top Stories eligibility.
This update doesn’t arrive until next year, but the message is clear: fast websites will be rewarded in search. I’ll be glad to see an end to AMP’s blackmail tactics.
If you haven’t seen The Rise Of Skywalker, avert your gaze for I shall be revealing spoilers here…
I wrote about what I thought of The Force Awakens. I wrote about what I thought of The Last Jedi. It was inevitable that I was also going to write about what I think of The Rise Of Skywalker. If nothing else, I really enjoy going back and reading those older posts and reminding myself of my feelings at the time.
I went to a midnight screening with Jessica after we had both spent the evening playing Irish music at our local session. I was asking a lot of my bladder.
I have to admit that my first reaction was …ambivalent. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it either.
Now, if that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s pretty much what I said about Rogue One and The Last Jedi:
Maybe I just find it hard to really get into the flow when I’m seeing a new Star Wars film for the very first time.
This time there were very specific things that I could point to and say “I don’t like it!” For a start, there’s the return of Palpatine.
I think the Emperor has always been one of the dullest characters in Star Wars. Even in Return Of The Jedi, he just comes across as a paper-thin one-dimensional villain who’s evil just because he’s evil. That works great when he’s behind the scenes manipulating events, but it makes for dull on-screen shenanigans, in my opinion. The pantomime nature of Emperor Palpatine seems more Harry Potter than Star Wars to me.
When I heard the Emperor was returning, my expectations sank. To be fair though, I think it was a very good move not to make the return of Palpatine a surprise. I had months—ever since the release of the first teaser trailer—to come to terms with it. Putting it in the opening crawl and the first scene says, “Look, he’s back. Don’t ask how, just live with it.” That’s fair enough.
So in the end, the thing that I thought would bug me—the return of Palpatine—didn’t trouble me much. But what really bugged me was the unravelling of one of my favourite innovations in The Last Jedi regarding Rey’s provenance. I wrote at the time:
I had resigned myself to the inevitable reveal that would tie her heritage into an existing lineage. What an absolute joy, then, that The Force is finally returned into everyone’s hands!
What bothered me wasn’t so much that The Rise Of Skywalker undoes this, but that the undoing is so uneccessary. The plot would have worked just as well without the revelation that Rey is a Palpatine. If that revelation were crucial to the story, I would go with it, but it just felt like making A Big Reveal for the sake of making A Big Reveal. It felt …cheap.
I have to say, that’s how I responded to a lot of the kitchen sink elements in this film when I first saw it. It was trying really, really hard to please, and yet many of the decisions felt somewhat lazy to me. There were times when it felt like a checklist.
In a way, there was a checklist, or at least a brief. JJ Abrams has spoken about how this film needed to not just wrap up one trilogy, but all nine films. But did it though? I think I would’ve been happier if it had kept its scope within the bounds of these new sequels.
That’s been a recurring theme for me with all three of these films. I think they work best when they’re about the new characters. I’m totally invested in them. Leaning on nostalgia and the cultural memory of the previous films and their characters just isn’t needed. I would’ve been fine if Luke, Han, and Leia never showed up on screen in this trilogy—that’s how much I’m sold on Rey, Finn, and Poe.
But I get it. The brief here is to tie everything together. And as JJ Abrams has said, there was no way he was going to please everyone. But it’s strange that he would attempt to please the most toxic people clamouring for change. I’m talking about the racists and misogynists that were upset by The Last Jedi. The sidelining of Rose Tico in The Rise Of Skywalker sure reads a lot like a victory for them. Frankly, that’s the one aspect of this film that I’m always going to find disappointing.
Because it turns out that a lot of the other things that I was initially disappointed by evaporated upon second viewing.
Now, I totally get that a film needs to work for a first viewing. But if any category of film needs to stand up to repeat viewing, it’s a Star Wars film. In the case of The Rise Of Skywalker, I think that repeat viewing might have been prioritised. And I’m okay with that.
Take the ridiculously frenetic pace of the multiple maguffin-led plotlines. On first viewing, it felt rushed and messy. I got the feeling that the double-time pacing was there to brush over any inconsistencies that would reveal themselves if the film were to pause even for a minute to catch its breath.
But that wasn’t the case. On second viewing, things clicked together much more tightly. It felt much more like a well-oiled—if somewhat frenetic—machine rather than a cobbled-together Heath Robinson contraption that might collapse at any moment.
My personal experience of viewing the film for the second time was a lot of fun. I was with my friend Sammy, who is not yet a teenager. His enjoyment was infectious.
At the end, after we see Rey choose her new family name, Sammy said “I knew she was going to say Skywalker!”
“I guess that explains the title”, I said. “The Rise Of Skywalker.”
“Or”, said Sammy, “it could be talking about Ben Solo.”
I hadn’t thought of that.
When I first saw The Rise Of Skywalker, I was disappointed by all the ways it was walking back the audacious decisions made in The Last Jedi, particularly Rey’s parentage and the genetic component to The Force. But on second viewing, I noticed the ways that this film built on the previous one. Finn’s blossoming sensitivity keeps the democratisation of The Force on the table. And the mind-melding connection between Rey and Kylo Ren that started in The Last Jedi is crucial for the plot of The Rise Of Skywalker.
Once I was able to get over the decisions I didn’t agree with, I was able to judge the film on its own merits. And you know what? It’s really good!
On the technical level, it was always bound to be good, but I mean on an emotional level too. If I go with it, then I’m rewarded with a rollercoaster ride of emotions. There were moments when I welled up (they mostly involved Chewbacca: Chewie’s reaction to Leia’s death; Chewie getting the medal …the only moment that might have topped those was Han Solo’s “I know”).
So just in case there’s any doubt—given all the criticisms I’ve enumerated—let me clear: I like this film. I very much look forward to seeing it again (and again).
But I do think there’s some truth to what Eric says here:
A friend’s review of “The Rise of Skywalker”, which also serves as a perfect summary of JJ Abrams’ career: “A very well-executed lack of creativity.”
I think I might substitute the word “personality” for “creativity”. However you feel about The Last Jedi, there’s no denying that it embodies the vision of one person:
I think the reason why The Last Jedi works so well is that Rian Johnson makes no concessions to my childhood, or anyone else’s. This is his film. Of all the millions of us who were transported by this universe as children, only he gets to put his story onto the screen and into the saga. There are two ways to react to this. You can quite correctly exclaim “That’s not how I would do it!”, or you can go with it …even if that means letting go of some deeply-held feelings about what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve happened if it were our story.
JJ Abrams, on the other hand, has done his utmost to please us. I admire that, but I feel it comes at a price. The storytelling isn’t safe exactly, but it’s far from personal.
The result is that The Rise Of Skywalker is supremely entertaining—especially on repeat viewing—and it has a big heart. I just wish it had more guts.
Reinventing the web the long way around, in a way that gives Google even more control of it. No thanks.
How Robin really feels about Google AMP:
Here’s my hot take on this: fuck the algorithm, fuck the impressions, and fuck the king. I would rather trade those benefits and burn my website to the ground than be under the boot and heel and of some giant, uncaring corporation.
Time to Interactive (TTI) is the most impactful metric to your performance score.
Therefore, to receive a high PageSpeed score, you will need a speedy TTI measurement.
At a high level, there are two significant factors that hugely influence TTI:
Bruce wonders why Google seems to prefer separate chunks of JSON-LD in web pages instead of interwoven microdata attributes:
I strongly feel that metadata that is separated from the user-visible data associated with it highly susceptible to metadata partial copy-paste necrosis. User-visible text is also developer-visible text. When devs copy/ paste that, it’s very easy to forget to copy any associated metadata that’s not interleaved, leading to errors.
What if accessibility were a ranking signal for Google search results?
Here’s a thought: what if Google put its thumb on the scale again, only this time for accessibility? What if it treated the Lighthouse accessibility score as a first-class ranking metric?
Google hijacking and hosting your AMP pages (in order to pre-render them) is pretty terrible for user experience and security:
I’m trying to establish my company as a legitimate business that can be trusted by a stranger to build software for them. Having google.com reeks of a phishing scam or fly by night operation that couldn’t afford their own domain.