JS Party – Episode #174

For a more dope web!

Paul Bakaus talks Web Creators

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Paul Bakaus from Google Web Creators joins Amal, Nick, & Jerod to talk about this new initiative to promote, educate, and equip people to create on the web.

Along the way we discuss Web Stories, AMP, RSS, Google Reader, and more, of course. Join us: for a more dope web!

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Alright, hello JS Party people! We are so excited to be here with you today. It’s my favorite topic - basically, anything on the web… So I guess I’m cheating. It’s not really a favorite, it includes everything that we talk about… But we’re really excited to have a very special guest with us today, Paul Bakaus. He’s a developer advocate at Google, working on the Web Creators project, which we’re gonna learn all about today. Welcome, Paul.

Thank you. Thanks for having me. And also, coincidentally, this is also my favorite topic.

I know. It’s a bunch of web lovers here.

You’re in good company.

Yeah. Maybe that project should just be called Web Lovers, instead of Web Creators…

I like it. Yeah, I like it.

Just weird SEO result potentially, right? [laughter]

That’s true.

Careful searching for that…

Yes, exactly… “Farmers only? What?” Just kidding. Folks based in the U.S. will maybe get that joke. On our panel today we’ve got Nick Nisi - welcome, Nick.

Hoy-hoy.

And of course, Jerod. Hi, Jerod.

Hoy-hoy!

Hey, you’re stealing his tagline.

[laughs]

Copyright infringement here, you know?

I’m just here to cause trouble.

Alright, so today’s show is gonna be about Web Creators. Some people might be wondering, “Wow, Web Creators - that sounds super-generic, Amal. What the hell?” And I agree. I have to wonder - since this project came out of Google, and it’s called Web Creators, what’s the SEO story on that? I’m curious, Paul… You know, if people are googling “web creators”.

That’s a great question.

Did Google have to hard-code something in the search algorithm to get that to pop up?

[00:03:57.16] Yeah… You know what - I still think we have to work on that, to be honest. No, to be honest, I haven’t considered SEO when I started the whole thing. I really thought more about the term “blogger”, and how if you go to a high school class today and you ask them “Who wants to be a blogger?” then you’ll get zero hands raised. So my idea here was to shift that… To say, “Look, can we call this profession something that is a little bit more in the zeitgeist maybe of high school kids that want to become creators?” That’s really the reason behind this.

Wow, that is super-practical, and super-german. I would expect nothing less from you, Paul.

It’s kind of sad, nobody wants to be a blogger? I mean, come on…

They refer to it as influencer.

Right, web influencers.

Yeah, personally I still find it very cool.

I think it’s called something else now exactly. They have the best jobs in the world, really. They just get to push the world; I think it’s really cool. We’ll be talking about lots of pushes today, like pushing to the web… This Web Creators project is really about pushing to the web, right Paul?

Mm-hm.

So can you tell us what is this about? We’ve got Web Stories, Web Creators… What’s the what? Break it down for us.

Yeah, so first of all, Google Web Creators. The idea here is to, I would say, do something that we haven’t done, but we should have done a long, long time ago. We used to have this [unintelligible 00:05:16.08] organization at Google, of course, and you have probably interacted with a lot of them… And we had that muscle for quite a while now; and yet, that doesn’t just solve the whole problem, and that’s something that I realized a year or two ago, where I realized in the ’90s maybe content creators and developers were kind of the same person. The person who would create a Geocities page would also hand-code it. But today, those audiences are very different often. Your typical WordPress blogger might not have the technical background to reach them with [unintelligible 00:05:47.06] to be frank… And this is kind of embarrassing, but we never had that outreach arm; we never had education for bloggers and for non-technical content creators out there. And also, not just education, but sort of a relationship with them.

So we have Search Central and we have SEO guidance, but most of it is technical. We’re not really helping people along content strategy, around mental health for creators. There are so many topics that we could touch on, that we could work with people on, and we have never done this. So that’s really the core idea behind this program.

And now there’s another aspect of this, which is bringing innovation back to content creation on the web. I’m a developer advocate, I’ve been a developer for a long time… My first instinct when it comes to pushing to web is “Oh, I wanna be on the edge of web development.” It’s Web Assembly, or it’s something else that is super-hot right now. And what does that do? Well, it means that the application web will become more and more popular. But what do we do about the part of the web that is the content web? How much innovation really was there in the last 20 years in the blogging space? I’m curious if you think differently, but I think not so much. And I think we should fix that, to be honest. So that’s kind of the quest I’m on.

You’re fighting the good fight, man… We have this interesting problem on the web, which is the centralization of content. Everything’s kind of being funnelled through Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook… So all this content is kind of owned and created and kind of stays within these walled gardens, and isn’t easily accessible in the open web. And even if it is accessible in the open web, you’re always getting prodded and tracked and asked to log in, and whatever else… Not so great.

So first of all, we’re gonna have lots of fun stuff in the show links, so everyone should check this stuff out, because it is super-cool. I think the vibe around the education arc and the roll-out of this program is just super-cool… So we’re gonna play some audio for y’all. I hope you enjoy it.

Extract

[00:07:44.09] Bloggers. Journalists. Editors. Content marketers. Fan artists. Curators. Activists. A diverse group on their own journeys, and yet they all have something in common - they all create on and for the web. But it’s not the wide, wide web of the ’90s anymore, where I could [unintelligible 00:07:59.01] and GIFs together to satisfy my audience.

Creating on the web has become more complicated, especially if you’re not technical. Mobile users have higher expectations and less patience, and there’s not a lot of guidance out there to help you on your journey… Which is super-weird, right? Because the web is such a wonderful place. As the only truly open platform in the world, with an estimated four billion users, your own website allows you to own your audience, your content, and your monetization strategy.

[00:08:25.13] Whether you’re a blogger, a journalist, or a small business on the web, we’re all facing similar challenges, and we can probably learn a lot from each other. So if we’re stronger together, why don’t we have a shared identity? We’re convinced we can help each other as fellow web creators.

At Google, we deeply care about the web and wanna support you the best we can. Not just with developer and search guidance, but with a completely dedicated set of content, outreach and social channels we call Google Web Creators.

Become a member of our new community and follow is today across YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and naturally, our blog. So come check us out for tips and tricks on how to make amazing web stories, and then stick around to meet your fellow creators on Creators Spotlight and Power the Web.

Ask us anything on Twitter or on YouTube. Participate in the office hours. Send us dope content you create, and most importantly, help us keep the web weird, diverse and open. Let’s do this!

Yeah, amen to a diverse, open and weird web, and amen to any other advertising that uses the word “dope”. It’s speaking to my heart.

I was way in, and then you said my content had to be dope, and I was like “Dang it! My content is lame. Can I still publish it on the web?”

I know… Yeah, my content’s always mediocre, right? [laughter]

Yeah… What about my mediocre content? Does that count?

Right. Yeah, what’s the relativity bar here? [laughter]

I don’t judge. I’ll take all the content.

There you go.

So is this a way – like, you were saying there hasn’t been much innovation in this… And I think I agree. It’s not something that I’ve really thought about in the last 10-15 years of all of this, but there’s platforms, and the platforms have definitely innovated, and new closed platforms have come out… But if you want to be a creator that wants to own everything, and not just post it to *insert social media network here*. Is that what this project is really?

Yeah, that’s a great question. 50% of it I would say yes. There are two halves of this. The first one is to level with the current ecosystem of the web… To say “Look, there are tons of amazing bloggers out there that honestly are not getting the support that they need from us, and they should be getting the support.” We should celebrate them, we should encourage them to help them on their journey, and we’re not. And we need to fix that. So that’s the first one.

The second one is yes, there are a ton of what we call modern creators, for a lack of a better term. Not that bloggers are not modern, it’s just that creators that start on closed platforms and closed walled gardens, whether that’s a TikTok influencer or someone else… And we’re also seeing a pattern here – there was an article recently in one of the big news publications around how a bunch of YouTubers have started to create their own websites, because it allows them more control to engage their most dedicated fans… And it makes complete sense. The problem with that approach is that right now it’s freaking hard. It’s really difficult to do that if you’re just a one-person show. So these YouTubers were already very well-aware established. Big YouTubers that have a whole team around them.

So for their middle class of creators it’s still very difficult to get started on the web, and translate what they’ve been doing to the web. We’re trying to help with that, too. So both of these.

And it’s hard in two ways. It’s hard technically to pull off, and it’s hard to build an audience, because your audience is over there, watching YouTube all day.

So you kind of need help in multiple facets of this thing, otherwise you have to go where the audience is, don’t you?

[00:11:56.24] I guess that’s true, yeah. To be honest, I think it’s not a zero-sum game either. So it’s not like we’re trying to shift everyone to the web exclusively. That I think is also important to consider, because even if you’re a successful fashion blogger or food blogger today, then social media is gonna be a big part of your strategy. We’re not trying to say “Stop your Instagram account and come to the web.” No. It’s diversification that matters here. It’s the same with the stock market. You’re not just gonna invest in one stock and be happy with that if you’re a smart broker. You will diversify your strategy there.

Yeah, be in all the places.

You mean I shouldn’t just go all-in on GameStop, or…? [laughter]

Jerod, bad retirement idea, okay? Bad, bad, bad planning.

I’ve gotta go, guys. I’ve gotta go make some trades.

So this idea of elevating the content creation game for folks putting stuff out onto the open web is really cool, because what I’m seeing with web stories and just this general push for elevating the content is that we’re bringing the experiences people expect… So the web being this link-based, search-based – just a set of links that you click and you have to scroll to navigate etc, that’s not necessarily the same experience folks who are using native mobile apps are used to. They’re used to swiping, and all kinds of gesturing, and all this kind of nuanced behavior that isn’t necessarily native to the web yet… And you’re kind of introducing this Instagram style content, these snippets of little digestible bits of information that are for the modern user, really. It’s for people who are used to connecting on the web through their mobile phones. It’s such a d’oh thing that we’re this late to the game on that.

Yeah, exactly right. There was this meme around stories, and everything… Even the meme is already a couple of years old, so we’re definitely late to the show… But that’s not the point. The point is really to figure out what works for consumers today, and then bring that to the web, and make it more webby; that’s the really important thing. If you’re creating a story in a closed, walled garden app, good luck adding a link to that story. But with web stories, you have that possibility. You can add links, your content doesn’t expire…

But the crucial thing is that we’re always trying to find that compromise that keeps the user experience the way that consumers demand it, and yet, basically make it webby enough for the open web to sustain itself, and for those creators to sustain themselves. I feel like we’re generally misunderstood on this question. We’ve been misunderstood about this intention with AMP, but it’s kind of a hill that I’m willing to die on, because I really believe in the web and I want it to succeed.

When you say open web, do you mean specifically not the closed gardens of your typical Facebooks, Instagrams, Twitters, those places? It’s more like your own domain, your own host, things like that?

That’s right.

And then adding these social features to that?

Yeah, exactly right. I think there’s also a middle ground here… So whether something is open and closed is a very interesting topic maybe for an even longer podcast… [unintelligible 00:14:52.19] is a Medium link on the open web? I would say yes. But there are certain aspects of openness that you don’t get as a creator, monetization being one of them, for instance. And on YouTube the same thing. So I’m not just calling out a single company; there’s a spectrum of companies on the web that give you a hosting platform or something like that, that restrain what you can do as a creator. And unfortunately, it’s always this kind of compromise between complete freedom, but a lot of pain to set up, and basically renting a space, being able to move in right away, but losing that control. And I wish it wasn’t; that would be amazing.

Yeah, for sure.

Yeah. So to kind of summarize, this Web Creators project is - at least the first big thing that y’all are tackling is bringing Web Stories, which is a format of content, to the open web. So that’s what we’re talking about here. And we’ll get into the tooling, and the how, and the deploy, and the what as we go through this show… But to kind of set the stage for that context, you mentioned that Google even got criticized for AMP, and all these initiatives to really just focus on “What can we desperately do to fight the native app mind share of the web experience? How do we bring folks into the web through browsers, and using open clients?” This kind of battle - Google have really been leading that effort. In some ways, obviously, there’s a huge incentive for Google; Google sells ads, ads pay the bills… It’s in Google’s interest that the web stays healthy, vibrant etc. So luckily, the intentions are aligned with something good here.

[00:16:24.24] I’m glad you’re mentioning this, because so many people come to me and like “What’s in it for you? Why are you doing this? I don’t trust Google. Why is Google trying to do something good here? There must be some hidden intention here, right?” The fact is if you look at all the Fortune 500 companies, which company would suffer the most when open web goes away?

Google, for sure.

Right.

Google tops that list, unfortunately… So at least for me the motivations are clear here. Google’s fortunate enough to have pretty talented people that can execute on a lot of this stuff. We’ve seen AMP come out and be pretty successful and widely adopted. We’ve seen progressive web apps, we’ve seen performance metrics being set… So definitely, I would say folks coming out of the Chromium(ish) space are really kind of fighting the good fight for the health of the web and the open web, which is really great… Obviously, folks from Mozilla and other companies are doing the same; I just think that Google has the resources to really push hard on quite a few things… But really, how does this affect social media apps? Not that I care personally, but I’m curious, is there an interop story that is going to be adopted? Can we make this better, and set a standard for “Hey, maybe this stuff shouldn’t be behind walled gardens, and all this content should be indexable and searchable on the web”, and whatever else… I’m just curious if that’s something that could happen.

Yeah, I would hope so. I think that’s something for the social media apps to decide. But we’re definitely trying to work with all of them, to make sure that the content is indexable and accessible.

What I will say is I think social media has a role to play for a creator, and we continue to have a role to play, and that is to have audience connection, and that audience building an audience. I think they can really work together well in tandem. I think the one missing link - and pun intended - is the fact that you cannot link to your website from most social media, and I think that’s a big issue. I wish the social platforms would be more responsible in that regard, to be honest.

Yeah, true that. Well, in the next segment we’re gonna dig into the How. How do we discover this content? How is that created? All that fun stuff. We’ll be right back, kids…

Break

[00:18:30.18]

Alrighty, so… Web Stories. How do we find them, how do we link to them? What is this thing?

That’s the story? [laughter]

Yeah. You know what, Paul - I was so excited about this topic, I totally forgot to tell everyone that you were one of the key instrumenter people that was involved with the AMP project. You’ve kind of moved on to this, so it’s really nice to see that. For folks who are wondering what AMP is, do you wanna just give a 60-second summary on what AMP is? We’ve been mentioning it a lot.

Sure. AMP stood for Accelerated Mobile Pages. Now it’s just AMP, because we went beyond pages; there’s also emails and stories now, and [unintelligible 00:20:43.14] And we also went beyond accelerated and mobile. There’s also desktop and user experience in general now. So it’s a framework. It’s [unintelligible 00:20:52.10] that has a bunch of restrictions and a validation aspect to it that ensures a pretty good experience. I think that’s the most important thing to know about AMP. It’s way more restrictive than building something from scratch, but it ensures a good experience, and it’s meant for content. If you wanna build the next calculator app, AMP is gonna frustrate you to hell; but it is born out of the needs of publishers, to help the needs of publishers. It actually came out of the digital news initiative, where we work together with publishers to figure out solutions to help them stay afloat. They realized that it’s super-hard to build fast websites, and we’re like “Hm… We should do something about this.”

So that’s what AMP is, fundamentally. It’s meant to be a compromise between the free-for-all wide, wide web that we’re all used to, and the very streamlined consumer experience that people demand in closed walled gardens. I think it’s always been criticized for that reason too, because finding that balance is super-hard… And maybe we haven’t gotten it right all the time, but that’s what we’ve been striving for.

One other thing I want to call out is that I’m still involved in AMP. The AMP [unintelligible 00:21:59.07] team still reports to me; my personal focus right now is to scale up that new effort around Web Creators.

Yeah. It’s such a cool project. So AMP started out of Google, in collaboration with all these publishers, and the project is now open governance. Google has birthed it into the universe, so to say… But AMP had set a bunch of standard, and did a lot of things that were unconventional, and ruffled a few feathers… So it was definitely controversial, and it still is, I would say, to some degree. There’s still people that are angry about it, or whatever…

Amped up…

Yeah, exactly. Amped up.

So many.

So many… What’s the arc for this new kind of controversially – I don’t know, not controversial. Stories are this thing that Google is able to uniquely surface. The content is indexable by all search engines. Can you talk a little bit about that, before we get into how the hell these things are made?

Of course, yeah. Stories do have AMP underlying it. The technical foundation of Stories is AMP, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s because AMP provides this kind of restrictive user experience framework. For instance, we wouldn’t wanna allow someone to make a web story that cannot be tapped. Let’s say you put something on a page and it kind of hijacks the link clicks. That would be really bad. So even beyond the page framework, we need to, with Web Stories, really encourage people to keep with a consistent user experience.

So a Web Stories TL;DR - they’re taking that existing story format that you are used to from social walled gardens, like Instagram, TikTok, and SnapChat, so they’re taking this proven user experience and bringing it to the web. And then we’re working together with a whole lot of tool makers that create visual tooling, to make it easy to create those stories.

We don’t actually think that a lot of developers should hand-code them. Maybe the biggest platforms that create sort of an automated pipeline to create them - yes. But for the general content creator, they would go into like a Photoshop-like tool to drag those stories together and hit Publish, and then ultimately their website. So a story is just a website - a glorified website, in some ways - that has a very clear user experience that relates to what consumers relate to on mobile.

[00:24:08.18] The idea of the Web Stories - is that more of just like a spec? And not necessarily like – if I wanna go create a story, it’s not something that is hosted on Google, right? It’s more of just like “This is how it would work, and how you can implement it.”

That’s right.

Okay, cool. I was looking in there - it looks like there’s a web component as a developer I could use to add these stories to my own site… But I would still be hosting all of the content myself..

Yeah, that’s right. However, it’s kind of a similar scenario to AMP, where these stories all live on your own site, but we have the AMP cache on top of it that accelerates delivery when let’s say you’re opening Google Discover and you’re seeing the stories there. They are served from the AMP cache. Again, all analytics, all the attribution goes back to you as the creator, and any further link also goes to you… But just to accelerate the delivery, we’re still using the AMP cache here.

Does the AMP cache work from other search indexes? If I was on DuckDuckGo, I could discover a story, but would the AMP cache work? It should, right?

So DuckDuckGo would have the choice to link to the AMP cached version of that page. I think they are not doing it right now. In this case, they just link to the story on your own site. It doesn’t really matter; it’s gonna be a little bit slower for that reason most likely, but it still works.

Bing has their own AMP cache, for example. So if you search on Bing and you land on an AMP page or a story, then yes, they have their own cache. Everyone can build their own cache. The spec is sort of open.

So discovery has to come through Google, mostly, right? How am I gonna find these stories and consume them? Am I gonna search Google for “Nick Nisi web story” or “Paul’s story”?

You can. Essentially, it’s just a web page. Now, we have a discover carrousel on Google Discover, where we highlight the stories in a really nice visual way, with like a poster, and I think that’s a great entryway for discovery. We also highlight them on Google Search.

What is Google Discover? I’m not familiar.

Oh yeah, I should clarify this, because discovering Google Discover sometimes is hard.

[laughs] Sweet irony.

Yeah, and we should do a better job here. Google Discover essentially, on iPhone, is the Google app. So if you open the Google app, you get this stream of feeds - that’s Google Discover.

On Android, on the Pixel phones it’s the -1 screen. But again, the Google app is another entry into it. Yeah, that’s Google Discover.

Basically, it’s a counterpart to search, where you don’t start with a query. On Google Search you have to know what you’re looking for in order to look for something. And on Discover we’re trying to bring content to you that we think you’re interested in, but everything is web-based. So all the content there links out to web stuff.

That’s algorithmically driven, probably. Is there ways to create towards that, or to game it in some way? “Game” is maybe the wrong word.

Yeah, we don’t want people to game it…

Yeah, SEO for Discover is a hot topic. We’re trying to figure out what the right balance is, how much do we want to reveal, versus how much do we want to make purely consumer algorithmic… And we don’t have a solid answer on it yet. So we’re still working on that part.

Yeah. I think one of the things that drives a lot of creators towards more closed platforms is - as Jerod said, there’s the audience there. It can be tough to discover; if I have all of my stories on my website, how do you even know? I’m just screaming out into the void over here.

And I will say that Google used to have this tool that could help with it, called Google Reader…

…that maybe you could bring back.

[laughs] Oh, man, what a good burn. Yeah. [laughter] You know, we have something in the works that you might like, that you will hear about in the next couple of months.

Alright…

Break some news for us here, Paul. Let us know.

But I cannot break news yet. What I will say is that – so Jerod, you asked about how can you discover stories. And in fact, they’re web pages. So nothing stops you from linking to them on your own site. Nothing stops you from having a Carrousel experience on your own site. And some people are thinking “Well, who’s gonna do that? That’s weird”, because the experience is so different. But in fact – I’ll just give you an example here. There’s this [unintelligible 00:28:03.15] a third-party company in France, and they’re called Join Stories. A bunch of clients in France, like big retailers, big websites, that now have stories on their sites.

[00:28:18.01] You will be thinking, “Well, that’s weird”, because if you’d know more about the launch role out of Discover and Search, then you would know that we actually haven’t launched this Discover carrousel in France. We have launched it so far in the U.S. and in Brazil and in India. So some people have been asking “What’s in it for them?” and in fact, they just have it on their own website. They have integrated super-well into their experience, and it’s working for them. So there’s definitely a way to just bring it to a site.

We’ll have to link to that.

Yeah. Well, how does social media play a role beyond the web there? Because if I could create - in some sort of tool that I’m sure you’re gonna tell me about, or tools that those people are creating - and post to my own website, but also syndicate that out to other platforms, then that would be less of a compromise, less screaming into the void, because you know, my website’s cool, and all. But I probably get like 70 visitors a month.

That’s a good point.

Nick’s probably gets like twice that. So can I post those into Instagram? Can I post those into Twitter stories? What about my LinkedIn stories, which is where I usually post my stories?

That kind of ties into a question I was gonna ask, which is they’re just websites… And do Open Graph tags or similar for other social networks play into that as well?

The answer to that question is yes. Open Graph, Schema.org, whatever you want; Twitter Card data - all of that, you can bring in. We have actually been doing this with our own channel. With our Instagram account, for instance, for the Google Web Creators program, we have created a – I jokingly call this a Trojan Horse… But we have a Story page on Instagram that links to the Web Story. So you swipe up and you go to the Web Story. And we think that’s a pretty good pattern, actually, to cross-link those.

But the other thing that I’m gonna call out - and this is often a confusion too, where bloggers ask me “The story that I’ve just put on Instagram, where I just posted what my dog ate for breakfast - should I upload it to my web page now, to my website?” And the answer to that is no, probably not.

It’s not like we wanna turn the web into TikTok. I think the web is really great at long-form content, editorial content, authoritative content. And I don’t think we should change that. Personally, I don’t think we should make it all social media, the type of content that is on social media.

So we’re using the same format for stories, we’re using the same kind of tap-tap-tap thing, but we’re kind of asking people to create a multi-page story that has a beginning and an end, that is a little bit more editorial in many ways. So that’s a big difference, I would say.

Okay. So it’s not like more of a stream of consciousness thing; it’s like a curated, “This is what I’m gonna see every time.” That was going to lead into a question I had - I wouldn’t create a 75-page… I don’t know what you call them - page, story? …it would just be more to the point, and not necessarily just kind of stream of consciousness.

That’s right, yeah.

I was also reading that these don’t expire, right? They can be there forever.

Yeah. I think the ideal target is somewhere in the 8-12 pages long, probably. That’s at least the experience that we have. I think at 60 pages you would lose your readers very quickly… But yeah, absolutely.

So can we get into the nitty-gritty of how are these things deployed…? Like, is this a special HTML format? What is going on here? And you mentioned there’s tools to create this, Photoshop-like tools, so it seems like there’s maybe multiple vendors that are already kind of working in this space… But what’s the process like from A to Z if I wanted to go from zero to hero?

Yeah. I mean, for everyone in this room, for everyone who’s technical who’s a web developer, nothing stops you from coding them from scratch. So yes, under the hood it’s just HTML, but it is using the AMP library, the AMP framework.

[00:31:52.28] So you pull in the JS library from AMP, and then you use the flavor of HTML that we call AMP HTML. So there’s like an AMP story web component, and then there’s like AMP grid page, and so on… So there’s a bunch of special components that I use to construct the story. And there are certain tags that are not allowed, because they kind of destroy the experience. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t wanna have someone clickjack the whole thing etc.

Scripts…

[laughs] Yeah.

Just kidding.

But in the end, it’s HTML and CSS.

That’s like the backdoor, I would say, power user experience, right?

The experience that is intended for everybody - everybody can make these things through GUIs…

Yeah, exactly right. We think that is 95% of creators would probably go that route… And there is a bunch of tools out there; I mean, my team has been building our own tool for WordPress called Web Stories for WordPress. And then there’s also many third-party ones. There’s Make Stories, which is a self-hosted tool on a platform, there’s Newsroom AI… They actually started with other types of stories, for other ecosystems and closed apps, and then they also added the Web Story option.

So there’s plenty of tools available here… On stories.google, which is sort of our marketing lending page, you can find a little bit more of them. But there are many different ways of creating them.

Once we create this HTML page in this special format, I’m just deploying it to my site, but clearly, in order for it to get picked up by the AMP cache, is it just “Hey, you deployed something that uses the AMP framework, and therefore when the bots crawl, the bots will pick it up”? How does this work?

Yeah, so AMP has this validation system to ensure that you’re creating essentially valid AMP HTML code that doesn’t use anything that would break the experience… So we have the AMP validator on amp.dev that you can use to check whether it’s valid AMP. But then there’s also on the search console, there is a Web Story testing tool, as we call it… And you put it in there, and that one is specific to making sure that the Web Story has the ability to show up on Google in this featured way; let’s say the Discover carrousel.

AMP is completely open source. You could create a web story and it never appears on Google, and no one cares. But then Google has a bunch of additional requirements. For instance, it has to have a poster image, and it has to have decent Schema.org data, with a title and a publisher.

So that search console testing tool for Web Stories checks on those kinds of things, and it also gives you a preview of how it would look like, which is also great… And then yeah, you put it on your own server; you put it on your own server, you host it on your own server, unless you’re using a platform like Make Stories. That’s really helpful if you don’t have a website; then they will host it. But I would only really recommend that hosting solution if you don’t already have a website.

Can you mix and match?

You can, of course. Yeah.

What about sharing? If you and I were both creating stories, could I somehow highlight your story on my site, or almost like a blog roll type thing on my own platform?

Very good question.

Blog roll. Bring it back!

Absolutely. Yeah, so we have this thing called AMP Story Player, which is a web component that you can pull into any website, and it essentially works like a YouTube embed, like a third-party embed, where you can either include and embed your own stories, or you can include someone else’s story, and either create a sort of carrousel experience, or you have like a single embed of a story that you put into a blog post and it can be [unintelligible 00:35:15.10] So there’s multiple options there.

But yeah, I would hope for that kind of ecosystem to flourish in that way, so that everyone links to each other’s stories. I think that would be super-cool.

So what about the people who are out there making bank? I mean, influencers. It would be great for the open web and for Google if those people were creating Web Stories in addition to or instead of creating Instagram stories, or social media app stories.

Yes, absolutely.

On those platforms it’s easy for them to monetize, there’s lots of tools for them there… Because Web Stories is kind of – I don’t know if playing catch up is the right term, but there’s a lot of innovation inside of those platforms to make all that stuff really easy, really seamless, constantly improving.

Are there stories for those features inside Web Stories, or how does that work? It’d be tough to get somebody who’s making money posting stories all day to Instagram to come over to the open web if they can’t make money somehow, or even as easy?

[00:36:10.10] For sure. this is a great question, and something that I think about, that keeps my up at night every day, because the experience of onboarding someone like that onto the web is almost comically bad. It’s essentially like on Instagram the entire experience is completely integrated, as an example. The app that you consume and you create, going from consumer to creator is super-frictionless. How often do you worry about performance optimization on an Instagram post? Never. Because that whole thing is completely abstracted away for you.

And how often do developers for Instagram complain about the fact that they can’t do something? Never, because the platform started that way. But then if we take toys away with something like AMP, then the whole web ecosystem goes like “Oh my God, I can’t drive and drink anymore?! Blasphemy.”

[laughs] Blasphemy…

So yeah, I wish we could find good ways of getting there. I think it will be a multi-step process going forward too, but we can at least document it and we can help people along the way. One thing we have to start with is speaking the same language… Because if you are a social media influencer right now, the way you’re probably making money is with brand deals, for instance. And that brand deal, what are they gonna ask you? Well, they ask you about “What does your engagement look like? How many photos do you have?” And we don’t speak the same language on the web. On the web you don’t have followers, you don’t have engagement numbers in the same way. So you have to have an analytics thing going on your site. And then how do you translate that to convince a brand to work with you?

I think these are really interesting problems too that we’re trying to tackle. It’s death over 1,000 cuts maybe. There are so many little things to worry about. And I think we can’t just use Web Stories as a way to get people to the web, because then they have a disconnected set of pages on the web. We have to first convince them why do they need a website. I think this is not completely obvious.

One that’s not Facebook Pages…

Yeah. I’ll give you a small example here. For instance, on social media you’re creating a post. How long is the shelf life of that post? Probably a day or two, at maximum. You’re creating a blog post and you could make money from this over years to come. And in fact, the most popular bloggers out there do that. They build up a corpus of content on their blog and then they make revenue over multiple years. I think this is completely not obvious to someone who’s a new creator, who’s starting on social. There’s just a bunch of these things that we need to tell people, to be frank.

I think that’s on point. I think your focus - and of course, you have lots of resources, so you don’t have to have a singular focus… I think that in order to get more web creators, I think we should be talking about and focusing on the uniquely awesome things of the web…

Absolutely.

…instead of - and maybe you do this as well - copying features of social media apps. Web Stories - we also can do that here, and we can do it sort of better in certain ways, but it’s gonna be worse in lots of ways… But that, for example - like, hey, you can write something once and make money on it for years to come because of the permanence of the web, and the indexability, and the value there… That’s something the web does that the social media platforms are completely against, because they want you checking the new thing all the time. They’re not gonna persist that forever and pull it up when it’s useful… So that’s something the web is good at.

I think if we could focus on what makes the web awesome - that sells more Web Creators. You may also have to have these other features too, like “Hey, you can do your stories here. Of course you can.” But what’s gonna get them to come over from the platforms? I think that’s a good way to look at it.

You’re absolutely right.

No FOMO on the web. Maybe that’s the tagline we need… Because stories are FOMO-inducing; that’s the whole thing with stories. That’s the engagement that they use, these social media companies. It’s like, “It’s gonna disappear!! You need to read all the thiiiiiings. Like, who cares if your wife is having a baby?!” [laughter]

I know, right?

“Watch that clip! Click that button!”

Right. “Here’s another one. Here’s another one. Here’s another one.”

Yeah. “It’s disappearing.” Anyways. So yeah, no FOMO on the web. It’s about your bibliography.

[00:40:11.14] Yeah. One thing I just wanted to call out is that there’s two separate goals here. One is to really make the creator experience on the web better, to make sure that we can onboard creators to the web for many years to come, and that they’re successful, and that there’s enough ROI - to use a businessy term - for them to stay on the web and to find it valuable… But then the other goal - and this is also actually really why we think Web Stories matters - is to make sure that the user experience of the web is not as frustrating as it is today. And it is frustrating. I think we all notice. But the part of the web that is the content web - you might be landing on one really good blog post, and you click on another blog post, and then have like a newsletter capture, and you have GDPR dialogues, whatever… There’s massive plasters of ads… There’s so much that has been going wrong over the last couple of years. That’s something we’re trying to control with that Web Stories experience on the consumer side.

It’s interesting - we’re taking one little segment and trying to say “Okay, let’s do a social experiment and see if this will make the web better”, right? But we need lots of efforts like that. But what we’re really missing is a framework, that easy onboarding… And it’s a really tough competition with native closed source platforms, so there’s a lot to improve here…

We’re gonna get into kind of the future, and folks who are using this stuff, and all kinds of other good stuff in the next segment y’all, so stay tuned…

Break

[00:41:33.18]

Alrighty everyone, we’re back… So how many times do y’all think we’ve said “stories” in the past 30-40 minutes? Probably quite a bit…

We own the content, so we can go back and check.

Right, exactly. Yeah.

That’s right.

The closest person who predicts it wins… Nothing, I guess. [laughter] Wins the validation of being right. So we can kind of broaden this a little bit, because there’s more to this Web Creators story – um, sorry. No pun intended, actually.

You said it again. [laughter]

There’s more to this Web Creators story than just web stories, right?

Right.

The most interesting things for me, and something that I’ve been talking about for a while, and we’ll drop some clips here in a minute to show that I sort of predicted the future, that we’d be having this conversation, but - I really care about democratizing who’s pushing to the web, and not just folks that are employed, not just folks who are from Western countries… We need more people pushing to the web, not just pulling it… This movement really feels like it’s opening that door for higher-quality content for more people, hopefully.

[00:44:07.27] I’m curious - this project has been going on for a few months now; it’s fairly new, about seven months… What’s the reach been like? Are you seeing a push in the right way that way, with new creators coming on the web?

Yeah, great question. I think it’s too early to tell, to be honest, because we’re still in our first baby steps to grow those new channels and initiatives. But everything you’re saying is exactly what I’m trying to do… And to be honest, this has been the kind of reason for why I’ve started a lot of things over the last couple of years. In a previous life - I don’t know if you’re still familiar with this part of my journey - I worked on jQuery and jQuery UI.

Oh, nice. Thank you.

You’re welcome, yeah. So when I started the jQuery UI project, we got so many haters back then who were like “No, this is not the way you should do JavaScript.”

Don’t you mean ActionScript? Like, come on… Okay? Seriously. [laughter] Just kidding.

But yeah, the point was never to make the fastest framework, or the most elegant framework. The point was to open a path for more people to build stuff. So for the first time, web designers could build things. And it made me so supremely happy that that was the case. I call this anti-gatekeeping, and I’m still on that train.

The whole reason why I started this Google Web Creators program is basically because of that… I think we need more diverse voices on the web that succeed. This is super-important to me. So a part of this is that we simply haven’t helped the existing bloggers too, as I called out… And we need to help them.

But yeah, the Web Stories thing is just one of many things. It’s like, if you are a non-technical creator today on the web, where do you go to get help? Sure, there are other bloggers who help bloggers, and that’s great, but many of them have monetary incentives, too; they’re trying to upsell you to courses, they’re trying to do it for their own means often, too. And I know not everyone is doing this, but I feel like we can help you to be an objective voice and to partner with the ecosystem in ways that maybe individuals cannot do. And we’re doing sort of a hybrid…

For instance, one of the things I’m doing right now is I’m contracting a bunch of actual successful bloggers, that are really good in their industry - let’s say food, or fashion, or whatever - and you’re gonna see YouTube shows from them on our channels. So that’s coming soon, and this is completely unrelated to Web Stories. This is really about content creation on the web in general. Ironically, or interestingly, also unrelated to Google. So they’re not gonna upsell any Google technologies in those episodes… Because who cares? If I convince someone to start blogging on the web, and they use no Google Analytics and no Google Ads and nothing, we still win. So that’s the really cool thing of it, because it’s a net benefit to the web, it’s a net benefit to Google for the search engine… So yeah, that’s kind of the train I’m on.

I’m just really happy that we have a big giant that has their incentives generally in the right direction… Because the opposite could easily happen. Somebody shifts the goal, and all of a sudden we’re doing more DRM stuff… So I’m so glad that the focus is in the right direction, and I can’t wait to see what else comes out of this project besides Web Stories.

Google Reader 2, we already heard about it. Google Reader 2.

Oh, right, right. Exactly. [laughter]

Confirmed. Confirmed on this show. [laughter]

Yeah… Well, don’t expect too much. But yeah…

Well, it’s interesting though, because RSS is a technology that is so pro-web. If I can syndicate my writing to people who – I mean, that’s a follow, isn’t it? You’re subscribing to my RSS… That’s like social media pre-dating Twitter and Facebook.

Yeah, absolutely.

And it’s such a shame – I mean, it’s useful. We syndicate podcasts that way. I still RSS feeds, that’s how I subscribe to bloggers. I’ve got Nick’s blog, just waiting for him to write that next post. As soon as he does, it’s gonna come right into my reader. I think that’s one way–

[00:48:09.23] I just have to refactor the whole site…

[laughs] Yeah, he’s just gotta rewrite the site, and then he’ll have his next post. I really think it’s such a great tool–

I completely agree with that.

I wish it was just more discoverable. Maybe put that at the front of Google Discover, and then we’ll all be happy.

[laughs] This is so true. So I will say - without being able to disclose too much, but I will say we’re firm believers in RSS.

Okay…

I’ll leave it at that for now. Also, on a personal level, I think the fact that you see all of those newsletter platforms pop up - you have like Substack, you have all the others… And so many creators now think that they need to have a newsletter. I think that’s not a coincidence.

Yeah, good point.

It’s basically a cry for help; it’s a desperate cry for help, because the web isn’t doing this right… And I think this is really unfortunate. We don’t have this kind of [unintelligible 00:48:54.00] model that people really need. They wanna essentially break out of the feed-like algorithm to really build a meaningful connection to their audience… And they can only do that with email, which is so sad, because there’s not a lot of innovation in email either. There’s so many things you can’t do with email… So why can’t we not give them that on the web? I think that’s super-important.

I have to say, the communities piece is probably one of the weakest parts of the web. All those things exist within spheres that are outside of the web protocol… So I’m curious, with this web 3.0, decentralized web, blockchain-blockchain-blockchain, permissionless access to apps, and being able to do permissionless verification, which I think is the coolest thing ever - Jerod, we should do a show on that on JS Party. That’d be great. I’m curious, do we think that there’s a future for better web content through – can we push this community’s factor and engagement factor through tools like [unintelligible 00:49:53.28] I’m just curious.

Good question. I don’t know. Maybe.

People are able to identify their posses in an easier way, or… I don’t know.

Yeah, I would be lying if I said I’m an expert here. I’ve been following the NFT craze, but that’s about it.

Yeah. I think there’s definitely – I mean, the more different things we try, the more innovation happens… So there’s definitely people trying to do those things. In the good old days you had a forum. To use a blockchain example, you had your Bitcoin Talk, which had their own website. They had a forum on there, and that’s where you’d have your tribe, on Bitcoin Talk. Well, maybe that’s still going, but now everything’s just on Reddit. So it’s like, Reddit took over forums… And forums were a big part of the community, I think. And maybe we’re talking about slightly different things here, Amal, but I feel like forums that were hosted on people’s own websites, and they would moderate their own forums, was working pretty well.

But maybe - again, the tooling, the moderation tools, trouble with spam… Things that happened where if you had a centralized entity like Reddit helping you out - although they’ve got all sorts of problems over there, too - they become attractive. And you can also build your audience, because you know, if I’m on this Subreddit, I hop over to that Subreddit, now I’m on both - it’s nice, as a user. So it’s a hard problem…

Yeah. I think there’s a theme here too for the individual creators, which is that if you talk to a content creator, all of them will say that they want community and they want to have something like a forum on day one. So most of them, for instance, use things like Discord now, to do this. They want all of those things. But you know what they want most? They want to create content.

Everyone I talk to are saying the same thing here, which is “Just let me create content”, but 80% of my day is focused on all the stuff around it. And this is a huge problem. If you need to fight the trolls and counterattacks from everywhere, do your taxes… There are so many aspects of being a creator that are not about creating content, and I think anything we can do as a platform and as a web community to make this easier would be amazing.

[00:51:57.23] Yeah, we need frameworks for content authorship, making it easy to go from zero to hero, without blocking power users… So just like a ramp. It seems like Google would be in a great position to make something like that, Paul, for what it’s worth.

Yes, I think so. We’re trying, we’re trying to do something here. I think there’s also the challenge here that the web means something else to everyone. The beautiful thing about the web is that it’s a content platform but also an application platform, and also (to some) a social platform, and so on. I feel like we’re doing moderately well; as I mentioned earlier, we’re doing moderately well when it comes to the application web.

If you think about how easy it is to switch your laptop now, versus how difficult it was in the ‘90s… Most of the apps that you’re probably using day to day now run in the browser. I think that’s a huge success story for the web.

Right.

But then if you would have asked someone in the ‘90s where is the best place to create content, everyone would have say the web. 2000’s, too. Nowadays, you will not get that answer anymore, from most people. It’s a different slice of the web; I can’t say the web is unsuccessful in general, it’s just this slice of the web I’m worried about, and I wanna embrace.

Yeah. It feels like we’re paying for years of lack of innovation. Mobile spaces were just innovating at faster paces, and just way ahead, and we just weren’t really thinking that way. There’s a lot of catch-up to do, which really sucks, because there’s a whole generation of kids that are growing up not even using browsers. Folks like my brother’s age (he’s a lot younger than I am), everything is app-based. Everything. Their whole world.

Some folks, I’m like “Do you know how to attach something to an email?” There’s so little that they do. They really know how to use apps, but I don’t – like, do they know how to properly search on the web? Are they power users of the web? No. Are they power users of apps? Hell yeah.

Right.

It’s not a talent issue. You see these brilliant kids creating complex, Oscar-worthy videos on TikTok. It’s not a talent gap, it’s just that the platforms that are in front of these folks, the stuff that’s there, and that works well, that’s integrated, that’s “All-in-one. Don’t think about it. Zero to hero” are these native apps. We’re just really behind on that whole experience of creation and aggregation on the web.

Well, they’re compelling platforms, and if you’re getting what you want out of it, which a young person who’s creating an Oscar-worthy video on TikTok is getting what they want, which is people to consume that and enjoy it, and all the feedback that you get… But they aren’t seeing the long game. It’s kind of like owning real estate.

I think really with the web it’s like, own your content. Own your own domain. Control your own stuff. Sure, syndicate it out… But I think some of us have to get, unfortunately, bit by that, when TikTok comes and sweeps the rug out from underneath somebody, or YouTube does, or all these platforms, eventually… The platform’s desires clash with the creator’s desires, at some point, in many different ways.

[unintelligible 00:54:58.11]

And I think sometimes you have to learn that lesson the hard way, and be like “Okay…” And that’s when the web is there for you. It’s like, “Hey, remember where you could just–” Your Gmail account is compromised, but – I actually use Gmail.com. I don’t have my own. Nick@nisi.org. See, he’s doing it right. I’m doing it wrong. I’m at Gmail.

That’s Gmail though…

But you own that, nick@nisi.org. So yeah, you’re using Gmail as your provider, but that doesn’t really matter. You could sweep that out and not change your email address with a bunch of people. That’s smart. My personal email, if I decide I don’t want Gmail anymore, I’ve gotta go change all my contacts, and be like “I’ve got a new email address”, like a dork, because I wasn’t smart that way. Well, that’s gonna happen on these platforms. All of a sudden your audience is gone on TikTok, and you’re like “Wait a second… I built that audience”, right?

And you get booted.

That’s why, like Paul said, people are doing these email newsletters, because at least with that you have a direct relationship with a person’s email. So sometimes you actually have to learn the hard way.

[00:55:57.11] Yeah. I mean, for the browser thing too, I wish that was a surprise, that kids today don’t really get it anymore… But no, it’s not a surprise, because – I mean, that browser is a gateway to the web. That’s what the browser is. It’s an empty shell, and the web makes it awesome. If you don’t understand what’s valuable about the web, then why download that empty gateway? If you’re a kid today and you get a phone as your first computing platform, then everything that you put on your homescreen needs to deserve its place. It has to have value on its own. And the browser in itself doesn’t provide. It’s the web and all the content that you get in there that provides the value. Pun intended, right? …and tell that story the right way, then that’s not great.

I couldn’t have said it any better, Paul. That’s such a compelling story. We’ve got a tough fight ahead of us as web folks, you know? We’ve gotta make this platform relevant, and compelling, and more engaging, and more organized, and keep it open…

More discoverable.

Discoverable, right. If I could design a curriculum for elementary, middle school and high school students, like “Here’s what you need to know about the web”, everything from security, to why native apps are at times predatory… [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Like, there’s security issues, and – if I could do that, I think the world would be a better place. Maybe that’s what we should do; we should lobby for standard web education curriculums to be around the world. I don’t know how else we would tackle this problem, to be honest. Education seems to be the only way. That, and obviously, Timothée Chalamet… Here I am with three probably cisgendered men who are maybe not as excited about Timothée Chalamet as I am. Anyone who knows who Timothée Chalamet is, I’m a fangirl.

I don’t even know the story, so…

One thing that I will say to this is that I guess if I’d have one ask to the web developer community in that whole quest, it would be to be willing to come to the table to make compromises, needed compromises as a platform, to become relevant again. And I think not all of us are. Maybe the folks in this podcast are, but not all of us are.

I made this metaphor earlier - look at the drunk driver. But this is something that I’m seeing over and over, where people are trying to keep the old web alive, not willing to make compromises. It’s like you’re in an NGO, you’re a doctor, and you have this patient, and you can either amputate the leg or not… So do you help them survive by compromising? I hope so…

So this is my plea, I guess, to the web developer community, to come to the table with open eyes and open arms, and really think about what we need to do to make the platform fast, user-friendly, for creators and consumers.

That’s right. “Get all that JavaScript out of your bundles, kids” is basically what Paul is trying to say. [laughter]

I didn’t wanna say it explicitly, but yes.

Not just that… Fix your CSS, etc. Anyways. There’s so much wrong, and it’s not just on web developers. It’s really everybody involved with the process; it’s product owners, it’s designers, it’s everybody working on accessibility, and localization, internationalization… There’s so much to push here, so…

But thank you, Paul. We could talk about this forever; it’s been such a pleasure. You’re hiring for your team, I just wanna plug… Anybody who’s interested in working with Paul… I think earlier I said you’re a developer advocate - I think you’re the head of the developer advocate program, or something like that. You’re like a honcho person. But if you wanna work with Paul as a developer advocate, working on issues like this, pushing forward these really critical ideas for like the greatest thing that we’ve ever created as people on this Earth - the web is our best invention, in my opinion - we’ll put a link to the open job role in the show notes, so you can check it out… And thank you so much for your time, Paul. It’s been a pleasure.

Yeah, thank you so much. This role is kind of unique, because it’s a creator advocate. So we’re doing everything that’s cool about dev rel, but with a difference audience in mind. So I’m quite excited to go bigger on that journey.

Can the title be like “web savior”? I feel like if I got this job, it’d be the first thing I’d wanna negotiate as my title…

That would be awesome…

I’d be like “Listen, this developer advocate thing…” Web savior is really just so much cooler on LinkedIn… [laughs]

Yeah. For a more dope web.

Right. You got it. Web savior for a more dope web. Alright, with that said, episode #174 is a wrap, y’all. Thanks so much for listening.

Outro

[01:00:16.17]

Jerod, thank you for the pivot. I – like, you…

You like me?

Yeah. You saved our butt.

I like you, too.

We were gonna ruin that nerd spiral, you know?

That’s right. We can do that sometimes…

So you saved us.

I’m a show savior, that’s what you can call me now…

You got it, show savior…!

I’m over here googling Timothée Chalamet… I’m such a dork, I don’t know anybody.

Oh, my God, he’s this beautiful boy. How do you – oh, my God, you all fell…

I don’t watch–

Maybe we should just edit that out, because y’all didn’t laugh…

[laughs] I didn’t know who he was. I haven’t seen Interstellar.

Any parents with teenager boys or girls…

He’s a heart-throb.

Yeah, everybody loves Timothée Chalamet. Gender, sexual orientation, all of it…

Really?

Really? Paul’s like “Hm…”

He’s this really good-looking little kid. I love Timothée Chalamet.

Little kid? He’s 25.

Okay, I guess I’ve known him since he was a little kid, I feel like… But yeah, you’re right; he looks really young. I’m surprised he’s 25.

I know that because I’m on his Wikipedia page.

Oh, wow. Yeah.

Now I’m really curious. I’m gonna google this afterwards. [laughter]

It’s better than googling web lover, or what was the thing you were doing…?

Web lovers… [laughs]

Changelog

Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

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