How Google’s trying to make the mobile web look less ugly

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—The company responsible for a large fraction of the hours we while away on the web isn’t happy with how inefficiently we spend that time on our phones.

At its I/O conference here, Google (GOOG, GOOGL) touted the progress of Accelerated Mobile Pages, an ambitious initiative to remake the mobile web into a faster, lighter and less irritating medium—yes, even the ads that help pay for it. That is a laudable effort, and the web giant has a good story to tell so far. But it also needs to address lingering concerns about its intentions.

Amped up about AMP

The basic idea is to take the HTML code behind every web page and strip out the cruft: over-sized images, scripts that run redundantly in the background, and other junk that contributes nothing to the reading experience.

The results can be impressive—see how fast this post can pop onto your phone in AMP form?

At last year’s I/O, Google news head Richard Gingras said AMP pages load four times faster and use a tenth of the data of a non-AMP page. At a Wednesday evening presentation here, AMP lead Malte Ubl said better compression techniques allow images on AMP pages to need half as much data as a year ago.

The AMP project only debuted in October of 2015, but now Google says more than 900,000 domains serve up over 2 billion AMP pages. At a “State of the Mobile Union” keynote Wednesday afternoon, Google product-management vice president Rahul Roy-Chowdhury noted recent support for the format by Twitter (TWTR) and China’s social-media platforms Weibo and Tencent. Tumblr, owned by this site’s parent firm Yahoo (YHOO), is joining them.

There are sound reasons for this. While AMP wouldn’t exist without Google’s backing, it’s an open-source project that anybody else can use and revise—unlike proprietary fast-mobile-web efforts at Facebook (FB) and Apple (AAPL), Instant Articles and Apple News, that allow less flexibility. The British newspaper the Guardian recently dropped both…

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