Google is launching a developer preview of something it’s calling “AMP Stories,” which are two words that only make sense if you’re obsessive about what’s happening with the way we consume content on our phones. So you might be tempted to ignore the whole thing, but don’t: because understanding what’s happening here will get you ready for what could be a major change to how your Google search results are going to look later this year.
Luckily, the basics are actually pretty simple. We’ll start with the second part, “Stories.” If you’ve been using Snapchat, Instagram, or any number of Facebook properties, you know what a story is. It’s a full-screen display of content you can swipe or tap through. Snapchat started it, Instagram ruthlessly copied it, and then Facebook even more ruthlessly tried to make Stories a thing in every product it makes.
Now Google is doing the same thing. Beginning today, it will begin testing a Stories format that will appear in Google search — but only if you go looking for it. Search for a publication like People, CNN, or our sister-site SBNation and you might get served a carousel of slideshow content created by that partner. It could be a slideshow of a top-ten list, little moving images, or some other “visually rich [way] of storytelling specifically designed for mobile,” as Google puts it.
The first part is a little more complicated. “AMP” is standard for web pages that are radically faster than existing mobile pages, almost entirely supported by Google. It was in some way a response to Facebook’s Instant Articles, but served from Google Search, Bing, and Twitter.
AMP hasn’t been without controversy, but it has become a major source of traffic for the publications that use it (including The Verge). And so the “AMP” in “AMP Stories” refers to the fact that Google’s version of the stories are built on that HTML-esque base. AMP Stories are coded and served with many of the same tools used to make AMP articles — so they load fast and may even be pre-cached on your phone before you click on them.
I should disclose that Vox Media was one of the publishers that worked with Google to create AMP Stories and I definitely should disclose that, as Peter Kafka reported at Recode, Google paid some amount of money to publishers like Vox Media to develop AMP Stories. Neither Google nor my corporate parents would tell me how much — though Google characterized it a sort of development fund instead of an ongoing payment like what Facebook once did with live video.
In this early preview, at least, AMP Stories will be much more like the stories you’ll see on Snapchat Discover than anything else. Examples I’ve seen are a mix of text, moving images, and a little video. You tap on the right to advance, tap on the left to go back. (Interestingly, these are taps and not swipes, which I am chalking up to HTML not being as easy to code interactions against as native apps.)
Vox Media’s chief product officer, Joe Alicata, tells me that AMP Stories are “a distinct, new way to tell stories,” as opposed to AMP articles, which are mainly faster ways to show content that would otherwise just be on a regular web page. Google has stressed that at this stage, it’s not allowing ads in AMP Stories, but Alicata believes that there’s potential to monetize them down the road.
Anybody can make an AMP Story (it’s an open-sourced standard, though one that is clearly being driven by Google), but Google isn’t going to put just any publisher’s AMP Stories up on its pages. For now, it’s only a small, white-listed group of publishers participating in the developer preview. AMP Stories can be linked to and shared, but be aware that clicking on one from a desktop browser probably won’t look as good as it will on your phone.
Google isn’t saying when AMP stories will fully launch nor where they’ll appear when they do. But it’s pretty easy to guess: you can probably imagine that these will surface in the “Top Stories” carousel on Google, on the Google feed on Android phones, and wherever else makes sense. But will they stick around or disappear like other Stories? Will they be little circles at the top of your search results? Will they show up in the “Ten Blue Links” section of Google Search? All questions Google won’t answer just yet.
If I were Google, I’d launch AMP Stories sooner rather than later. If I know anything about the web, I know that there’s usually a backlash to a popular format a year or two after it hits critical mass. So Stories are probably due soon, as is AMP. Take those two things and mash them together? I honestly have no idea how people will react to seeing that at the top of their Google searches.
You can check out some of the early AMP Stories by using your phone and searching for a publisher at g.co/ampstories. CNN, Mic, SBNation, The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Wired, People, and Mashable are all participating. (And yes, The Verge will be playing around with it, too.)