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3 Ways Deep Linking Could Play Out

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how deep-linking is going to play out. For those who are not familiar, deep-linking is a technology that allows app-to-app communication to function very similarly to the way that web pages work. In the same way that a hyperlink to a website need not drop you off on the front page of that website, deep links hold the promise of allowing app developers and advertisers to deliver users directly to specific sections or portions of a mobile app, provided that the consumer has that app already installed. If deep-lining takes hold, long gone will be the days of clicking on a link to an app and either being delivered to the front page of that application or to a subpar mobile web application experience. That would be a significant improvement over the current state of affairs for consumers, advertisers, and developers.

There have been a number of somewhat recent announcements, including Facebook’s AppLinks announcement at f8 and the large round that URX raised from respected VC firm Accel. There is clearly a lot of attention being paid to this space.

Given how fundamentally powerful the concept of deep linking is, I can imagine a number of ways that deep linking could play out on in the market. My fundamental question about the space is whether a singe company or constellation of companies can control the technology or whether it will become an Internet standard. I can imagine three scenarios for how the market plays out in the short term:

1. Universal web standard service wins out – In terms of ecosystem simplicity, this would be my preferred solution. Some universal, well-understood and widely adopted convention and infrastructure for how web apps talk to each other regardless of the underlying OS would make life much easier for all parties involved. There would be no need to worry about whether the target user was on an iPhone, Android device, or desktop computer. Imagine a world in which you had to rewrite webpages to make them link properly for Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, and every other web search engine. That would be a nightmare – thankfully we have standard conventions for the web. I would love to see this happen for mobile, particularly for those companies whose strategies are rooted in cross-platform development.

2. OS-specific solutions from Apple and Google – This seems to me to be the worst of all worlds and the most likely thing to happen. I don’t see any compelling reason for Google and Apple to collaborate on a common way to make this work in the short term. I would expect that each would focus on what works best for its respective app ecosystem. The set of companies that should have the most vested interest in a common set of protocols is the Pinterest / Twitter / Facebook crowd – large applications with meaningful audiences that span both platforms and who have larger platform ambitions. Having a common framework would make it much easier for developers utilizing their respective platforms to support deep links with less friction.

3. 3rd party solutions carry the day – There is a handful of companies, including URX, a number of ad networks, Facebook, Twitter, and others who have their own agendas for building deep linking solutions that are not deeply tied to any specific OS and advance their own specific interests. The potential benefits to developers are a) those solutions can be cross-platform and b) they are likely to work today as opposed to standardization deliberations which can drag on and c) they could be a useful abstraction layer as the OS and app store specific solutions morph and change over time.

My sense is that the third party solutions will have an opportunity to establish themselves before the OS-specific deep linking frameworks really take hold. And if you are an iOS or Android specific application, the need to support cross-platform frameworks is greatly diminsihed.

As always, comments are open below or you can send me your thoughts on Twitter @chudson.