Google’s New “AMP” Plan for “Interactive and Engaging” Email Is Awful

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Google has announced the bringing of its “AMP” concept (an acronym for “Accelerated Mobile Pages”) to Gmail, and is encouraging other email providers to follow suit.

AMP in the mobile space has been highly controversial since the word go, mainly due to the increased power and leverage that it gives Google over the display of websites and ads.

The incorporation of AMP concepts into email, to provide what Google is calling “a more interactive and engaging” email experience, is nothing short of awful. It seriously sucks. It sucks so much that it takes your breath away.

I am not in this post interested in how or by how much AMPed email would push additional market power to Google. That’s not my area of expertise and I’ll largely defer to others’ analyses in these regards.

But I do know email technology. I’ve been coding email systems and using email for a very long time — longer than I really like to think about.  I was involved in the creation of various foundational email standards on which all of today’s Internet email systems are based, and I have a pretty good feel for where things have gone wrong with email during ensuing decades.

Introduction of “rich” email formats — in particular HTML email with its pretty fonts, animated icons, and wide array of extraneous adornments — can be reasonably viewed as a key class of “innovations” that led directly to the modern scourge of spam, phishing attacks, and a wide variety of other email-delivered criminal payloads that routinely ruin innumerable innocent lives.

Due to the wide variety of damage that can be done through unscrupulous use of these email formats, many sites actually ban and/or quarantine all inbound HTML email that doesn’t also include “plain text” versions of the messages as well.

In fact, the actual underlying email specifications require such a plain text version to accompany any HTML version. Unfortunately, this requirement is now frequently ignored, both by crooks who use its absence to try trick email users into clicking through to their malignant sites,  and by “honest” email senders who just don’t give a damn about standards and only care about getting their bloated messages through one way or another.

This state of affairs has led many site administrators to consider inbound HTML-only email to be a 100% signal of likely spam. Much actually legit email is thrown into the trash unseen as a result.

Google now plans to be pushing what amounts to HTML email on steroids, creating a new email “part” that will likely quickly become the darling of the same email marketers — further bloating email, wasting data, and causing both more confusion for users and more opportunities for virulent email crooks.

No doubt Google has considered the negative ramifications of this project, and obviously has decided to plow ahead anyway, especially given the rapidly growing challenges of the traditional website ad-based ecosystem.

I frequently am asked by users how they can actively avoid the tricky garbage that arrives in their email every day. I have never in my life heard anyone say anything like, “Golly, I sure wish that I could receive much more complicated email that would let me do all sorts of stuff from inside the email itself!”

And I’ll wager that you’ve never heard anyone asking for “more interactive and engaging” email. Most people want simple, straightforward email, keeping the more complex operations on individual websites that aren’t “cross-contaminated” into important email messages.

AMP for email is a quintessential “solution in search of a problem” — a system being driven by corporate needs, not by the needs of ordinary users.

Worse yet, if email marketers begin to widely use this system, it will ultimately negatively impact every email user on the Net, with ever more unnecessarily bloated messages clogging up inboxes even if you have no intention of ever touching the “AMPed” portion of those messages.

And I predict that despite what will surely be the best efforts of Google to avoid abuse, the email criminals will find ways to exploit this technology, leading to an ever escalating whack-a-mole war.

Throwing everything except the kitchen sink into HTML email was always a bad idea. But now Google apparently wants to throw in that sink as well. And frankly, this could be the final straw that sinks much of email’s usefulness for us all.

–Lauren–