Big companies are jockeying for position with regard to how content is published and how it is shown on the web, and WordPress is right in the middle of it all.
Requiring new formats of web pages for tools like Google’s AMP or Facebook Instant Articles feels, in a way, like an extension of what started with Facebook open graph and Twitter meta information. A corporation tells website owners to show some information so they can scrape that information in their own way and use it how they desire.
Now, instead of excerpts and titles, it’s the entirety of the content. Web owners get some benefits, sure. An article is more discoverable. A website’s content loads faster. But is it a dangerous precedent? Could there be a future where the content starts on some other platform, and the role of the open web is diminished? I don’t know.
I wish the trend of who dictates how content should be formatted was the other way around. I would like the web — or I guess more specifically the W3C — to dictate how other parties should efficiently grab content from websites. The reverse seems to be true; corporations are dictating how websites should format content, and those websites that don’t comply stand to face consequences. As a website owner, I’m feeling a bit bullied.
Google’s AMP project sounds cool. A ton of companies are supporting the effort. Pages load (much) faster. Google search results can pull that content into fancy new placements. There are many benefits. But at the end of the day, Google is in control, right? And Google is in a position of power already: they dominate both the browser and search market. Now we’re handing them the content format? And now I see Google Posts, “an experimental new podium”, so they can manage the content creation too? Don’t they just want it all? And is that a threat to an open web?
I don’t know the answers. But I don’t love what I’m seeing. Between AMP and Facebook Instant Articles, it feels like two behemoths are fighting a battle and WordPress is the big open source CMS caught in the middle — a big CMS, but maybe without a big voice. There are of course plugins for both (AMP and Instant Articles), and both are supported by Automattic. There’s no reason we shouldn’t provide the tools to fit these new formats. But longer term, we also need to strongly defend an independent web, or I’m afraid we may just give it up one piece at a time.
I sound pretty dystopian, I know. My point isn’t to raise massive alarm. It’s just a reminder to myself that I believe in the open web for a reason. When I host my content, it is mine and I own it. And I don’t want to give it up. So I would rather look at these tools big companies are pushing out skeptically, versus simply just embracing them with open arms.
WordPress has a role to play here, and we’re in a position of power as well. We shouldn’t forget it.