A Deep-Link Deep Dive: URX, Wildcard, Button, Demo the Future of Mobile

I first heard about deep linking while building my own app, One Day Gym Pass, which lets you buy day passes to nearby gyms.

Ahead of the launch, I started thinking about how we were going to get users, and I came up with an idea: Wouldn’t it be cool if we partnered with fitness-tracking apps to acquire users?

Someone tracking their fitness near one of our gym partners could, theoretically, receive a notification or inline prompt to purchase a discounted day pass to a nearby gym through our service. I’d pay the fitness-tracking app for each user it sent over to my app, and — assuming we could track it properly — I’d give them a cut of the resulting sale.

I quickly learned that the infrastructure required for such a cross-app partnership is pretty tough to build, especially if I wanted to partner with multiple fitness-tracking apps. Thankfully a handful of companies has emerged in the past year or so aiming to create a connective tissue in the mobile economy that facilitates traffic and transactions between apps.

After reading a few John Battelle posts describing the imminent “quickening” in mobile, I became hooked on the idea of flattening the walls between apps.

So I created a group called Deeplink.NYC to get product people in New York talking about deep linking as a means of creating new opportunities and economies across mobile.

At our first meetup last month, four startups in the space — Deeplink, URX, Button and Wildcard — demoed their products to an audience of developers, designers and founders, followed by a panel moderated by Vera Tzoneva, who works on deep linking at Google.

Here are four takeaways from Deeplink.NYC’s first meetup. (Full disclosure: I decided to take a job at URX after the event.)

1) There’s no benefit to hoarding users.

Chris Maddern from Button drove this point home with a delightfully simple observation that seems to elude app developers who scoff at the idea of a partnership that sends their users into other apps. In commerce apps, he noted, there’s nothing to do when you’re done: “After I’ve got an Uber, my appetite for an Uber is fulfilled. I don’t need a second Uber five minutes later.”

As a result, for commerce-based apps, there’s no real benefit to keeping users in your app forever, though there is a benefit to directing them elsewhere after they complete a purchase. For one, it extends the functionality of your product. Say you’re a restaurant-reservations service: Shouldn’t your users be able to book a ride to the restaurant from within your app? Secondly, you can receive referral pay from partner apps each time you send them a new user.

2) There’s a fatal flaw of deep links (and cards).

Wildcard reiterated this fact as one of deep linking’s shortcomings: If a user doesn’t have an app installed, and you deep-link them into that app, then they’re either sent to the mobile Web or…

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