Mobile Page Rank in Review

BranchMobileDeeplinkingSoftwarePage RankNative

Earlier this year in a podcast titled “Searching for Mobile’s Own Pagerank” by Balaji S., Chris Dixon and Benedict Evans discuss the fact that a mobile pagerank really doesn’t exist and where the future of native vs. mobile apps might be headed. Many of the questions they pose center on mobile as an ecosystem that Evans’ likes to describe as a “swirling mass.”

Things may not have changed much in half a year, but I think it’s important to review their podcast and think about the questions that still linger on the industry’s mind with regard to finding a native page rank solution.

Original Podcast Notes:

To save you some trouble, I’ve taken the liberty of curating a set of notes on the podcast. Enjoy:

  • We’re in the Pre-Page Rank era of mobile.
  • When you look at the app store today it’s like looking at Yahoo in 1995.
  • No way to find the right things you want to use on the device.
  • App stores are like Amazon – list everything that exists, but difficult to discover and explore.
  • Pre-NetScape Phase as well: things are happening outside of the browser.
  • How do we find, explore, and interact with content in the future?
  • There’s the app, webapp, card, url, messaging app etc., but it’s not yet well defined how to find the content you’re looking for. On the dev side, how you do you explore and engage customers within that?
  • Chris Dixon: Nobody has invented the real page rank for mobile yet.
  • There is no HTML for native – no deeplinking through content, no analygous linking structure that you see on the web.
  • You don’t have a universal resource locator for every single piece of content with apps.
  • Even if you deeplink to content you still need to have the app.
  • The reason we had the web is because it was impossibly difficult to do anything else – it was too hard to get people to buy desktop software.
  • Smartphones are communication platforms that desktops never were.
  • The smartphone itself becomes a social platform – while the device fades into the background. You can see this in the disappearance of “Tech Specs” from most new Apple device intros. The focus is on the user experience, the beauty and more.
  • Not limited to the browser… you can do all other sorts of things.
  • Pulling away from native apps. (Apple with health/cards)
  • You have to remember an app is just a view on top of an underlying data store.
  • Urbit – web links between pages… but how should we link between apps?
  • We shouldn’t really have to document an API for every app by utilizing the internal directory structure on the local phone.
  • Phones can be used as a distributed data center.
  • Links between applications based on data interces.
  • Large caches of local data – inversion of today’s model of access.
  • Apple runs a full stack with integration based on fingerprinting, wireless, bluetooth etc.
  • Google is trying to the opposite – lifting all its services into the cloud.
  • Language and player is less important than the mobile interaction – what will the icon on your homescreen look like? How did it get there? Did it appear automatically? Are there downnloads? Is it geo-traced?
  • Deeplinking into apps fades away in this context.
  • Who is it that is going to kill the native app? Apple.
  • Google might try, but Apple will be the one who turns around and changes the infrastructure and platform.

Killer Questions on Mobile & Deeplinking

So, where does this leave us six months after a deep dive from the industry’s thought leaders into mobile and native? Not much further away from where we were then. As I began thinking about what’s changed, I was actually only able to come up with a new set of questions. Instead of answering questions, which I have no expertise to tackle, I will instead leave you with a new set of questions – hopefully to help you think about the changing target that is native page rank and the mobile industry as a whole. By virtue of my connection to Branch, one of my key focuses in mobile is deeplinking. This definitely flavors my view of the mobile world:

  • Why isn’t there a better way to search for apps on the app stores – both for Android and iOS?

  • Is this a universal developer pain point? Why?

  • How do you think deeplinking is going to help native apps evolve out of the pre-page rank era of mobile?

  • Why is deeplinking so much more than just the links?

  • How do you think deeplinking could solve the problem of not having a universal resource locator for every single piece of content with apps?

  • Do you think Apple is going to kill native apps?

  • Do you think native apps are going to die off in the same way that desktop software has?

  • Do you think deeplinking through the app stores and deeplinking app content really fades into the background when you think about mobile interaction from a very high level? How does Branch links fit into this ecosystem?

These are the questions on my mind as a technologist living in a world as unclear and swirling as Evans’ describes. For now, there are no good answers, but I feel confident knowing that perhaps links can get us there.