Mobile's Next Step: Deep Linking Between Apps - InformationWeek
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Chris Sell
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Mobile's Next Step: Deep Linking Between Apps

Today's smartphone and tablet apps don't link to one another. The app ecosystem is missing a fundamental component for businesses -- but that's about to change.

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Links are the glue of the web. There are several trillion links connecting pages. Links have enabled ad networks and affiliate programs to build empires routing paid traffic on the web. Links have enabled Google to build PageRank and show pages in results that are reputable, important, and relevant to users.

Today, mobile and tablet apps do not link to one another. The app ecosystem is missing this fundamental component that has enabled empires to be built on the Web. This is all about to change. In the next five years there will be several trillion links between mobile and tablet applications enabling new empires to be built in the app world.

Where we are today
Since 2007, apps have been proving they are capable of being an ecosystem on par with the web. The first requirement was producing enough content. Developers have produced over 2 million apps to date. Second, apps had to prove they could attract a following. iOS and Android each have had over 50 billion app downloads. Smartphone users spend 80% of their time in apps. Apps are here to stay.

To date, most mobile app marketers have focused on getting app installs. It has been a booming business, proven by Facebook reporting 53% of revenue coming from mobile. Now, with over 100 billion app installs on iOS and Android, the app ecosystem is ready to take the next step.

An app world unto its own
The result of this app revolution is the creation of a new ecosystem: 2 million apps, each a lonely island with populations that do not talk to one another, do not send traffic to one another, and do not understand the content inside each other. Users cannot easily find content they are looking for and find themselves opening and closing apps constantly. When links are added -- I expect the first trillion in the next three years -- this will change.

Image: Pixabay.
Image: Pixabay.

The first step in this march is enabling deep linking. Innovative app developers such as mobile retailers are doing this in their apps already; they are using deep links in marketing channels that send users directly to specific pages within their app. For example, the fashion retailer Threadflip is currently generating tens of thousands of ads daily for each of the products it sells and matching those ads to its app users based on their app browsing behavior and prior purchases. The results have been impressive, with the company able to increase revenue per user by 40%.

Enabling deep linking in apps will continue to get easier with open-source projects such as Turnpike, and the incentives will become even more enticing for developers to enable deep linking.

Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter all have started to understand this and are now releasing their own products that highlight the value of making application content easier to access by the outside world. Each is figuring out how to use deep links to expose the content that exists within apps to drive engagement and, ultimately, higher modes of monetization.

Once deep linking is enabled in applications across smartphones, tablets, and other devices, the march to a trillion links will begin. It will look similar to the development of linking between pages on the web. Blogs, magazines, and newspapers will put deep links in articles. Affiliate apps will deep link to a seller's app. Marketers will use them in ad, social, and email channels.

Although it took the web 10 years to go from a few million links to several trillion, it will take the mobile and tablet app world just five years. The question is, what will be built on them?

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Chris is the Lead Product Manager at URX. Prior to URX, he worked on Google Chrome, Google AdWords, and Google[x]. He went to Northwestern University, where he spent most of his time building web apps and starting a business. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/20/2015 | 10:09:48 AM
Deep Linking Between Apps
Deep linking between apps is certainly the way forward and will play a huge part in developing that ecosystem. while I can't say how exactly the mechanics would work there are open source projects out there like who are developing a universal messaging and data synchronization system for the web that would anyone and anything to easily communicate securely. So I wouldn't write it off just yet.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/29/2015 | 2:30:31 AM
Re: Mechanics of linking between apps?
We have figured a lot out lately, David.


And here is the proof:) A collection of great deep link examples from top apps such as Starbucks and Etsy etc. Etsy is currenlty using Yozio to power its deep link use cases.

User Rank: Apprentice
5/16/2014 | 2:57:15 PM
Re: Mechanics of linking between apps?
Deeplinks are super great, and could go a long way to making multitasking on mobile work well. They are also a brilliant reengamement tool for mobile marketers.

But until now they don't work on uninstalled apps. At Tapstream we solved that piece which allows deep linking to work as a really great onboarding tool, allowing the developer to customize the first time user expereince to parallel the channel/content that initially drove them to the app.

I think Deep Links will be a really big part of the app ecosystem moving forward. The big challenge has been large scale adoption but FB's open source might give the momentum required to reach the tipping point.

Exciting times!

Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/16/2014 | 1:00:52 PM
Re: Mechanics of linking between apps?
>I agree this would be a great thing, but has anyone worked out the mechanics of how linking between apps should function?

Take a look at Facebook's deep linking scheme works quite well.
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2014 | 12:46:36 PM
Re: Mechanics of linking between apps?
This could get messy. The idea of "links" is a bit different when using the web, which is an open and standardized platform. I don' think that links between mobile applications is going to work as well. But I have been proven wrong before. 

I would have to think that this is a perfect excuse for the rise of open HTML5 mobile apps instead. It's been tried before, but I think that devices and data throughput have improved since 2009, when we first started hearing that this standard could become big on mobile. 
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
5/16/2014 | 10:27:13 AM
Mechanics of linking between apps?
I agree this would be a great thing, but has anyone worked out the mechanics of how linking between apps should function? What happens when I click on a link to another app but don't have it installed? Do I get prompted with the opportunity to install it at that moment? Do I get the choice of accessing a mobile web equivalent, if one exists, and I don't want to or don't have time to go through the app install?

I've also had the experience of trying to interact with web content which directs me to other web content even though I have a better app experience available on my device. For example, clicking the share button on a news website and being sent to rather than being given the opportunity to share through the Facebook app on my phone or tablet. Providing a way for apps to intercept and handle mobile web interactions like that would be convenient. I can also imagine security/usability complications when the app interaction is something the user doesn't expect.

Ideally, there should be protocols for linking between apps that work across mobile operating systems.

Is any of what I've imagined happening? If we're still at the stage where interactions between apps have to be custom programmed, I wouldn't expect fast progress toward the vision you've outlined here.
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