Facebook builds a mobile web with itself at the center

By Nathaniel Mott , written on April 30, 2014

From The News Desk

Facebook is trying to make mobile apps work a little bit more like the Web.

The company today announced an open source tool, AppLinks, that allows mobile developers to include links to content within other apps. The tool can be used to send someone to a song within Spotify, a document in Quip, or a video on Hulu. Instead of making consumers jump between native applications and the mobile Web, this tool connects various applications in the same way that the Web connects many sites. These are hyperlinks, rethought for the app era.

AppLinks follows other efforts to make it easier to jump between mobile applications. Apps are often stuck in their own little boxes, doomed to the confines of their icon and the data that Apple allows them to access. Some companies have tried to change that, whether it's through Twitter Cards, Google's interconnected applications, or apps connected by indie developers, but most applications are unable to link directly to something within another app's confines.

Facebook might be able to change that. The company has already partnered with a variety of other companies whose services are either built into many other applications (Venmo, Parse) or are popular destinations unto themselves (Flixster, Pinterest) to help AppLinks gain users. Facebook has long tried to forge connections, whether it's between people or the relationship between someone's Likes and the advertisements they might be willing to click or tap on. Now it's trying to connect the many apps and services that many consumers use all day, every day.

Facebook offers some of the most popular apps on every mobile platform -- most people use the main Facebook app more than they use any other app, and others are likely to use some of the applications it owns, such as Instagram and WhatsApp or Messenger and the new Paper.

People already use those apps to find content, most of which can be accessed from different apps; now they'll be able to do so without having to jump between the apps and a browser, and they can be taken right back to Facebook's applications with the tap of a single button.

Think of all the things shared to Facebook every day. Photos are cross-posted from Pinterest, songs are shared from Spotify, and movies are mentioned with abandon. Being able to visit all of those apps without trouble makes it easier to use Facebook as the launch pad for anything its users want to do with their phones. Facebook is spinning a web and sitting in its center.

[image via AppLinks]