Facebook responds to developer demand with analytics for App Links

Since launching in April, Facebook App Links has grown to support more than 3 billion unique URLs tagged for the open source tool.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO — Based on most of its recent shares, Facebook's two biggest likes of the moment would be mobile and open source.

When their powers combine, one of the meeting points is App Links, a free open source tool designed to help developers link between apps.

Sounds simple, but there are actually many moving parts behind an action that works (ideally) within a blink of an eye.

In response to the “most requested” feature as demanded by Facebook’s developer base, App Links will be upgraded with analytics, powered by Facebook, its subsidiary Parse, and mobile analytics provider Mixpanel. Being open source, developers can also build their own analytics solutions.

“Our fundamental goal is to make App Links build the fabric of the mobile ecosystem,” said Facebook product manager Vijay Shankar during a chalk talk on Thursday morning. "If we can make every URL out there have associated deep linking points, we can basically build the existing fabric on the web on mobile.”

A familiar example of deep linking for Facebook members on Spotify would be app integrations within the music sharing service.

Songkick is one such Spotify app that tracks and lists concerts for “followed” artists and lets fans buy tickets directly through Spotify. Facebook users can streamline all of this by using their login information already saved on their smartphones, reducing the identification and transaction processes to mere seconds.

In development for roughly two years now, Shankar admitted one of the biggest challenges has been figuring out how deep linking could work on mobile.

For one, Shankar said many apps don’t support deep linking.

“Our fundamental goal is to make App Links build the fabric of the mobile ecosystem,” said Facebook product manager Vijay Shankar.

"It was a lot more challenging than what we thought it could be,” Shankar said frankly. He reflected the team finally felt they had "something special" with App Links being that it was an open source, end-to-end solution that worked well for developers but also a model (i.e., a URL) that works well for people.

"Even my mother,” Shankar quipped.

Basically, App Links is designed to work for anything linkable, whether it be links to content in other apps, on websites, or even advertisements.

"Ads on mobile has a lot of catching up to do, and I think this can help with that,” Shankar suggested. 

The key is that the apps don’t actually have to talk to each other, Shankar revealed, ensuring that the tool should work seamlessly without having to worry about scale. The number of apps linking out are also always smaller than those that receive links, reflecting general activity on the Web, Shankar postulated.

According to Facebook, the benefit for end users is being able to move seamlessly between apps. For developers, it will grow the number of links (and thus, traffic) to one’s app and content while breaking down silos — all through a few lines of code. 

The next piece was making it cross-platform. Shankar noted Facebook is "equally interested" in making solutions work across iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Along with the addition of analytics, Facebook is also boosting its cross-platform abilities this week, especially for Windows users.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company unveiled App Links at its now-regularly scheduled f8 developer summit in April. Initial partners included Spotify, Mailbox, Hulu, and Goodreads.

By June, there were more than a billion unique deep links set up with App Links, meaning developers could deep link between more than a billion destinations. Within that same time frame, there were hundreds of more apps that adopted App Links across iOS, Android and Windows Phone from new partners such as Live Nation and Vimeo.

In total over the last three months, Shankar cited the figure has grown to over 3 billion unique URLs updated with App Links tags with “hundreds” of apps constantly adopting App Links.

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