Giants are roaming the earth! They are devouring everything in their paths and transforming the landscape with each ground-shaking footstep. Yes, I’m talking about the five mega-global corporations that the New York Times calls “the frightful five,” namely Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Now two of them — Google and Facebook — are facing off in an epic one-on-one combat. With its Accelerated Mobile Pages, Google is directly responding to the challenge posed by Facebook Instant Articles.
Watch awe-inspired as these titans of tech confront each other. Imagine their colossal battle, which certainly must rival the clash between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles as they battle for Superbowl glory or the monster contest of Godzilla against the fearsome Kong.
Here I will assess who exactly is winning in this historic conflict.
Roots of the Conflict
At its core, this battle pits mobile apps against the web. Facebook with its powerful array of apps — like Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp — has created a closed social media world that users inhabit, never to venture forth into the wilder parts of the World Wide Web. Facebook’s coterie of apps capture an amazing portion of the time we spend online. As Adweek reports, on average users are devoting 50 precious minutes of their time each day to Facebook and Co., equating to roughly five years in an average lifetime!
That grip on the youth market translates into a powerful money-making machine for CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In 2016, eMarketer tells us, all social media advertising pulled in $12.5 billion globally, but one year later that amount had climbed to almost $36 billion, a 188% increase! And The New York Times reported that for Q2 2017 Facebook profits rose to $3.9 billion, a 71 percent advance from the prior year.
Since its IPO in 2012, Facebook has pivoted strongly to mobile. As Dan Engel wrote in the Mobile1st blog, “Mobile is the lynchpin for all Zuckerberg’s other achievements — locking in Facebook’s hold on the global youth market to become the leading app on smartphones.” Facebook has striven to please millennials by delivering a great, speedy user experience on phones and tablets.
One big part of that UX upgrade has been Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allow publishers anywhere in the world to easily provide “an incredibly fast and immersive reading experience.”
The Google Response: Accelerated Mobile Pages
No wonder Google is responding faster than an Eagles defensive tackle to a football bouncing free from Patriot QB Tom Brady’s hands. And no surprise, Google is working strenuously to loosen Facebook’s and other apps’ hold on the mobile generation — by providing an ever-more improved mobile experience.
AMP of course is an open-source project led by Google. It strives to ensure that static mobile pages provided by publishers (and others) can load at express speeds, ideally within a mere second. Not only do AMP pages utilize a select, limited subset of HTML code and tags to ensure maximum load velocity, AMPed-up articles are stored on Google servers around the globe, so they appear faster on the user’s preferred device no matter the location.
Certainly by most measures, Accelerated Mobile Pages have been an unqualified success. An astonishing number of pages have been transformed into AMP code – by early 2017 over 2 billion from 900,000 website domains. And Google’s collaborating partners comprise a roster of the elite of the Internet, including Twitter, Tumblr, Weibo, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Bing.
Face off with Facebook
Still, who’s winning? Who can claim boasting rights to the fastest loading and most user-friendly pages?
Round 1: Speed
A super accelerated load time was the biggest and brightest target for both AMP and Instant Articles. How did they fare?
Google has slashed load speeds to an impressive user-pleasing 1.4 seconds, much less than the 5.3 seconds for the average mobile web article. But according to Chartbeat’s tests, Facebook’s Instant Articles appear in a miniscule fraction of that — under one tenth of a second and sometimes so fast as to truly merit their “instant” name. Round one to Facebook.
That speed bears real results too for both AMP and FB’s IA, namely a growth in engagement with what’s being read: 48 seconds for AMP articles vs. 36 seconds for web-based mobile news.
Round 2: Traffic Volume
Since its launch in February 2016, Accelerated Mobile Pages have quickly delivered results for publishers worldwide. Chartbeat reports that the stream of traffic to AMP articles is three times as broad as the mobile users flocking to Instant Articles. Round two to Google.
And the Winner Is …
Certainly AMP has helped Google turn back the challenge and stem the rising dominance of Facebook by slashing load times and transporting big audiences to AMP publishers. Let’s call that a major victory. But that success hasn’t entirely delighted publishers, whose chief complaints about Accelerated Mobile Pages are:
- AMP offers less analytics than the more robust tracking tools typically employed by publishers.
- By its very design, AMP disconnects each article from the rest of the publisher’s content, failing to send visitors to the publisher’s website.
- And finally, all AMP pages look the same.
Sure, Google may have taken a tumble in this first historic bout, but the match between these two global goliaths is hardly over. Google declares it is listening to publishers, responding to their complaints. Moreover, based on open-source code, AMP can draw upon Google’s talent-rich teams of engineers to improve its performance, and also upon the collective talents of web developers from around the globe. Indeed, Accelerated Mobile Pages have demonstrated remarkable progress in just two short years, including its eager adoption by major ecommerce players. Better look out Facebook — Battle of the Tech Titans II is arriving, maybe even faster than your Instant Articles can load.
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