The most interesting news from Facebook’s F8 last week was the announcement of App Links. If you are unfamiliar with the announcement, watch the 1 minute video embedded below which does a great job of setting up the sales pitch. Using App Links, mobile app developers can put markup in their web pages that indicate how to launch that page in their application on Android, iOS and Windows Phone. For example, clicking on a link to a FourSquare check-in from the news feed will launch the FourSquare app on your phone and will open that specific location or event. .
The interesting question is why is Facebook doing this? It boils down to the fact that Facebook is an advertising company which makes the majority of its revenue from those ads asking you to install Candy Crush and Clash of Clans in your news feed.
Facebook’s pattern at this point is well known. They give you something of value for free (traffic) and once you get hooked they dial it down until you have to pay. The world is littered with the ashes of various companies who were once media darlings because Facebook gave them a bunch of free traffic from liberal news feed algorithms and then turned off the spigot. Just ask Viddy, all those social readers, Zynga, or read that hilarious break up letter from those guys at Eat24.
Publishers who use app links will likely get a boost in the news feed algorithm likely under the pretext that they provide a better user experience to consumers. Early success stories will cause lots of developers to create app links and then get hooked on the traffic they get from Facebook. Eventually your traffic will start dropping and any complaints will be met with an elaborate mathematical formula which explains why your content isn’t that hot on Facebook anymore. But don’t worry, you can fix all that by buying ads.
It’s obvious, devious and I love it. Especially since it does actually move the user experience of the mobile web forward even if the end goal is to make Facebook tons of money.
The other thing I give Facebook props for is holding a mirror up to the major search engines to see how silly we were being. Bing supports standards for app linking but it's only for Windows & Windows Phone apps. Google supports the same and again it only works for Android apps. Facebook is trying to say it doesn’t matter if you are on the web, Windows Phone, Android or iOS, links in the news feed should open in the native app on that platform. Google and Bing’s search engines on the other hand only supported the same when searching on the OSes from their parent companies. #strategytax
Hopefully Facebook’s move will bring more inclusiveness across the board from many online platform providers not just search engines. For example, I would love it if email providers also supported app links as well.
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