Google Launches Beta of AMP-Powered Web Stories Plugin for WordPress

Google announced a public beta of its new Web Stories WordPress plugin this week. The plugin’s description aptly reads, “Visual storytelling for WordPress.” It is essentially a custom editor for creating AMP-powered stories within WordPress.

Users can download the beta plugin directly from the Web Stories beta page. Developers who want to contribute or take a look under the hood can do so from its GitHub repository.

Web Stories is a story format born out of Google’s AMP Project. The goal is to provide visually-rich stories through a mobile-focused format. Stories are used to deliver news and other information in chunks that site visitors can quickly tap through and consume.

With far more users browsing the web via a mobile device in 2020 than just a few short years ago, many no longer engage with content in the same way. People are more likely to quickly browse a lot of content but not be willing to dive quite as deep into the details. The Web Stories format focuses on that user experience by creating bite-sized pieces of content that users can move through without much focus — whether that is a good thing for society is up for debate.

The story format also typically makes more use of visual information than it does text. Each page of a story tends to use images or videos, often in the background with text overlaid, to grab the viewer’s attention. However, there are no hard rules on what content a story page can present.

The Web Stories plugin is slated for an official release sometime late this summer. The team is working toward stabilizing the product and focusing on bug and performance fixes, according to the beta launch page.

In late March, the development team removed support for Stories from version 1.5 of the AMP plugin. They were prepping for the release of the new Web Stories plugin. The Stories feature was listed as a beta feature in the AMP plugin before removal.

Stories support was originally added to the official AMP plugin in June 2019 as part of its version 1.2 release. It was a direct integration with the WordPress block editor. However, it has since changed drastically. The development team has created a custom system outside of WordPress’s primary editor that offers a true what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience.

Getting to Know the Web Stories Plugin

Web Stories for WordPress takes an almost completely custom approach to creating content with WordPress. It has its own drag-and-drop editor, a dashboard for editing stories and finding templates, and custom URLs.

The development team decided to register a custom “web story” post type as the foundation of the plugin. One benefit of this system is that stories can live on their individual pages on the site. This also allows site visitors to subscribe to stories via a feed reader or third-party email system. Instead of pigeon-holing everything into a custom block, the team gained full freedom over the experience by creating a custom story-publishing process on top of the post type system.

In many ways, the editor feels much like working with a simplified version of a photo editor such as Photoshop or GIMP. In the center of the screen is the canvas. Users can work on the current story page, create new pages, or use the arrows to flip through each.

Web Stories editor within the WordPress admin.
Creating a story with the Web Stories editor in WordPress.

Two boxes are aligned to the right of the screen. The top box holds the Design and Document tabs. The Design tab allows users to edit options for the currently-selected layer, and the Document tab holds the configuration options for publishing. The Layers box sits below. It lets users quickly select a layer to edit.

On the left side of the screen, users have quick access to their media library. Because stories primarily use visually-driven content, it makes sense to keep media a simple mouse movement away.

The only major problem that I ran into when playing around with the story editor was figuring out how to delete a layer. I eventually realized that I could drag a layer off the canvas and it would disappear. That was probably the least intuitive part of the experience.

Web Stories comes with its own Dashboard screen in the admin. While the normal “All Stories” screen created by the post type exists, the Dashboard provides a visual list of created stories that users can scroll through.

Web Stories plugin Dashboard screen in WordPress.
Web Stories Dashboard screen.

For users who are short on ideas or simply need a jumping-off point, the plugin currently supplies eight starter templates to choose from:

  • Beauty
  • Cooking
  • DIY
  • Entertainment
  • Fashion
  • Fitness
  • Travel
  • Wellbeing

The templates offer ample variety to begin learning the system by customizing the various story pages. The editor should be intuitive enough for most users to hit the ground running, but the templates make for some quick inspiration.

Overall, Web Stories looks like it will land with a splash late this summer. It is a showcase of what is possible when you put together a team of top-notch developers and empower them to build something amazing.

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19 responses to “Google Launches Beta of AMP-Powered Web Stories Plugin for WordPress”

  1. Nancy says:

    Disappointed WordPress continues to encourage AMP. With their nonstandard coding practices, ignoring W3C coding standards, isn’t in the best interests in making websites cost effective. Yes, there are plugins but there are so many custom post types, this isn’t always an easy implementation. It’s costly. Build it once, not twice and not with another set of code because they ignored standards. I know SEO people love it, news sites love it, but I find I leave AMP pages – they are usually unattractive and awkward.

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    • I haven’t actually seen WordPress.org encouraging AMP, but Automattic does.

      The AMP HTML part, first of the three technologies that makes AMP, is not “nonstandard” and not ignoring W3C “coding standards”. It is a HTML framework, thus based on HTML. HTML is the extensible base, the replacement tags and restrictions are defined using W3C HTML. That’s why it can be shown in web browsers with no add-ons. The are no “AMP readers”.

      How an AMP page looks has little to do with AMP as a technology, rather the fact that most themes lack full support for it. Using the “reader mode” of the AMP plugin will just generate a dull page, sometimes odd.

      There is a lot to say about AMP, the project, standard and implementations, including misunderstandings. This post from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sums it all up quite well.

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      • Nancy says:

        Yes WordPress is under the umbrella of Automattic to be specific.
        Yes, you would need AMP HTML (tags), AMP Javascript, etc. It is a different setup than normal web pages as referenced in the article you shared. AMP is not part of the W3C standards unless I’m mistaken and those tags and additional markup are now recognized.

        You would not need AMP tags for a normal website. You can have a very fast website without using AMP separate markup.

        Simply because a web browser can read AMP markup doesn’t mean it is adhering to web standards. It still requires more time to make a website with AMP in addition to a normal website. That was the original point of the W3C standardization for markup.

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        • WordPress is not under the umbrella of Automattic. Automattic provides a significant portion of its resources and time into development of WordPress. However, so do many, many other companies and individuals.

          I have not seen that much encouragement of AMP from the inner WordPress community. It’s been pretty much a mixed bag.

          Nevertheless, this post is about a Google-owned and operated project called Web Stories, which is merely a plugin that users can choose whether to install. The plugin will only be successful by the number of users it gets.

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  2. David says:

    I am just about to get a new WordPress website/blog together and I want it to have the Google Story and AMP plugins available. The website/blog will be a knowledge site and gateway to a new hyper focussed internet radio station and Google Story would be an asset I think…..

    Any hosts using this plug in yet? Any tips or tricks?

    David

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  3. Neha says:

    If the plugin is from Google then it would certainly be good. I have tried so many AMP plugins till now, but got disappointed from all of them. Will try the beta version. Thanks for letting us know about this.

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  4. Destiny says:

    I’m more concerned with how Amp stories will appear on search engine, if they’ll appear at all. Does it mean publishers will have to optimize for SEO. Will it create another SEO myth?

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  5. Von says:

    I built my whole site on AMP and I am looking forward to further integrations between WordPress and AMP. I’m glad that this plugin is now available and is backed by Google and WordPress, I’m really looking forward to what we can do into the future.

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  6. John Smart says:

    Have been hoping to see a plugin like this come from Google itself. Finally we’re here. Can’t wait to test it.

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  7. Bill says:

    We have been working on getting AMP implemented which is a big project since our site needs some remapping. Agree that making AMP look good is another big hurdle but doable. We are definitely going to look at adding the stories feature as well.

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  8. Fabio says:

    Do you know how to add the Google Analytics code on the stories? I’m not using the AMP plugin. Only this Web Story Plugin.

    Thanks

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    • At the moment, Google Analytics will be added automatically if you are using the Site Kit WordPress plugin. We are working on a settings page though where users can enter their Google Analytics ID and we’ll automatically add the necessary tracking code. Also, there will be plenty of ways for developers to tweak the tracking to their liking.

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  9. AMP is causing more trouble than it’s worth. It barely works for us and is also very WooCommerce un-friendly.

    I wished Google would be more user AND developer oriented and less trying to imitate Facebook and Instagram.

    Sincerely,

    Andreas

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  10. Uwe says:

    Hi Justin,
    thanks for your information.
    Do you know how to edit the URL ?
    By default it looks like ……./stories/….. how to edit “stories” ?
    Or is this a must.
    Best regards,
    Uwe

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  11. Please what is the advantage of AMP because I have seen a lot about it but I have no idea about

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