How can Facebook’s App Links change the mobile world?

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One of the many innovations Facebook announced at f8 was App Links — a deep linking system that allowed publishers such as Endomondo, Goodreads and Spotify to take users from a Facebook News Feed post into their app, bypassing a mobile browser.

John Milinovich, CEO of URX, understands just how important App Links can be to the greater mobile ecosystem. URX helps app developers with deep linking, creating a better user experience for push notifications, email campaigns, SMS and social media. By taking advantage of App Links, Milinovich feels that developers will start seriously thinking about improving deep linking and removing the friction that a mobile browser creates.

Milinovich sat down with Inside Facebook for a talk about the impact of App Links and where app developers will go from here.

Inside Facebook: What was your first reaction when Facebook announced App Links?

John Milinovich: It was exciting because a couple members of our team were in the audience. It was exciting to hear Ilya (Sukhar, Parse CEO) use some of the same words that we would to describe what we’re working with, to make it clear that this was a big opportunity that Facebook sees and acknowledges. It was great to talk shop with him after the fact, too. For us, what’s really exciting is it’s very clear that there’s a need for the big players to all make concerted pushes to make deep linking adoption become commonplace.

As we’ve seen in this industry for the last year or year-and-a-half, there’s still around 25 percent of apps that actually support deep links, let alone the companies that have gone the extra mile and put these tags on their site to actually enable the web to understand what their deep links are. There’s less than 100 companies who do that. From our perspective, App Links to URX is very similar to Twitter cards’ initiatives on deep linking or Google’s initiatives on deep linking. It was actually a huge benefit for Facebook to give their endorsement to developers to go with App Links.

IF: What do you think App Links can do for the future of mobile publishing?

milinovichJM: Certainly, what it will enable is the concept of app-to-app communication, that we’ve all thought about. It can be something that happens more quickly now. If you look at the way the Web is structured, hyperlinks are the web. The ability to go from one website to another website is so intuitive and a fundamental component of the experience. It’s crazy to think that it hasn’t been like that for the app world. The thing that gets me the most excited is that deep linking is a mechanism to be able to send traffic to a certain target application. What App Links — along with Google and Twitter initiatives — will help push is the actual exposing of what your deep links are, so developers can build on top of that and understand it.

The ability to go straight from Facebook into apps is going to be a very clear value add for why apps should deep link in the first place. If your three competitors are doing this, and you’re not, you probably should. I think it’s going to have a very interesting impact from a monetization standpoint in the same reason AdWords is so effective. You’re going to be able to show somebody a targeted ad that takes them to a landing page where they can buy that item or engage with that content. That same concept is really what deep linking enables. It’s going to be something that happens from app to app, and I think it’s going to create something that will be interesting.

IF: Do you think this will cause developers to re-think the way that they treat links?

JM: Absolutely. That’s what we’ve seen working with people in the last year. I remember the first time we showed a demo of deep linking. It was a split audience — half of the people were informed about the industry and the other half were lay users. The lay users in the room didn’t even understand why this was significant because it just looked the way they would expect it to work. You click on a link in one app and it opens the link in another app to the content they clicked on. What’s so hard about that?

Everyone else realized what kind of friction exists in this world today. The ability to (deep link) will change the way that people think about marketing their apps, but tremendously change how developers go about building their apps in the first place. That’s the biggest reason that deep linking wasn’t adopted before — people don’t build their apps as having pages the way that they do on the Web.

IF: How do you think App Links will help or change the way apps are marketed?

JM: The reason that this matters from a business perspective, is that the first era of mobile marketing was all about acquisition — how can you get as many installs as possible to increase my own app’s distribution. But as the economy has matured, the cost to get a new install is kind of high. The lifetime value of a user is also increasing. Users have 48 apps on their phone now. So actually what’s becoming a huge opportunity and has really started to take off is app engagement — paying to get people back into apps that they already have installed.

You think of AdWords as the canonical example of how this should work on the Web. It really captures intent. They can show me an ad for something relevant. I click on that ad, and it takes me to the specific page where I can buy or engage with what I looked at. That same flow hasn’t really existed in mobile yet. Deep linking is actually the first step that’s going to really push that agenda.

Readers: What do you think of App Links?

Photo by Praneendra Kuver for Inside Facebook.

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