How Facebook Is Streamlining The Web

At Facebook’s developer conference F8, the social network revealed several smaller ideas that build toward one really big one.

Yesterday, when Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage of F8—Facebook’s big development conference—he didn’t announce a big product consumers might care about, like Facebook Paper, or a new, multi-billion-dollar acquisition, like the texting app WhatsApp.

Instead, he announced a series of small tweaks and developer tools that could change the way users play with apps, share content, and hop from screen to screen. It was a revealing look into a deeper strategy: Facebook wants to knock down the walls separating our phones and desktops, and our apps and webpages. In removing the everyday friction of digital experiences, the social media giant is positioning itself as an essential, unbiased mortar within disjointed digital experiences dominated by Apple and Google. Here are two ways Facebook is doing it already.

Send to Mobile

Your desktop is still a separate experience from your mobile phone. It leads to countless inconveniences like, if you find a link on your phone, how do you share it to your desktop? Most people are forced to copy, paste, and email it. And the same goes for finding a new app you’d like to try.

Send to Mobile is Facebook’s solution. For any site that uses a Facebook login, Send to Mobile allows users to text message themselves a link to an app. So if you sign up for Spotify on your laptop, Send to Mobile can beam your iPhone a convenient link to the App Store to download Spotify.

That’s handy. But truth be told, there’s no reason Send to Mobile would need to stop at apps alone. That core technology could be used to share virtually any piece of information, media, or link via SMS from a desktop to a phone, bridging the divide between our pockets our desktops.

App Links

Each app on your phone lives its entire life in ignorance of all the other apps. Yelp doesn’t cross reference Groupon for deals on your favorite four-star sushi restaurant. It’s up to the user to multitask, copy and pasting content, double clicking Home buttons, sliding through screens, to make this magic happen.

Facebook’s solution is a few lines of free, open-source code you can add to any app for Android or iOS platforms, "deep linking" one app to another. They’re called App Links, and they enable apps to transport users from app to app in much the same way the web uses links to transport users from webpage to webpage. Companies like Hulu and Pinterest have both added some of this linkable-content to their apps (assumably, Hulu lets you link to a specific episode of a show, and Pinterest lets you link to a particular Pinterest post).

App Links are a one-size-fits-all language that can be coded once and work for every platform. And where App Links get interesting for Facebook (and Facebook users) is that these deep links can take you straight from your Facebook feed to a specific news story or photo within an app rather than a mobile webpage. Then, if you think bigger for a moment, there’s no reason that App Links couldn’t do more, transporting users to extremely specific moments in highly interactive apps—like the apex boss fight of a video game, or a live feed through an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset—rather than linking you to just news stories.

The Next Facebook Is A Better Web

It’s not hard to see where digital trends are heading. We’re all going to use more devices on a daily basis. Phones. Tablets. Laptops. Internet connected TVs. iWatches. Google Glass.

Already, we're seeing approaches like responsive design rising to connect these experiences. But there are cracks in the infrastructure—how does an app interact with a webpage? How do you bring your identity from one app to another? In this realm, companies like Apple and Google often have little incentive to work together. After all, Apple wants you buying Apple products. And Google wants you buying Google products.

In this climate, Facebook has seemingly spotted an opportunity to step in as an impartial mediator of interfaces, patching the holes between mobile devices and desktops, apps and websites. It's uniquely poised to do so. Facebook already has access to our personal information. As uncomfortable as it makes us sometimes, that access is why the company is able to whisk us around different apps and devices very well.

If we learned one thing at F8, it’s that the future of Facebook isn’t just one Facebook app or even many Facebook apps; it’s a company that acts like glue, melding the disparate parts of our identity and our conversations as we traverse the increasingly complicated digital ether we call the Internet.

[Image: Facebook via 1000 Words / Shutterstock]

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  • Facebook is committed to growing into a much more diverse and essential company than what it is today. Yes, they were the first to harness the influence of friends, but Facebook is so integrated into much of our lives, whether you use it every day or not. Every time you log into an app or website with your Facebook login, you are connecting your Facebook account to another place on the web.

    What Facebook is today is not what it will be in the future. I believe that Social Networking will be less and less important as time goes on.

    Kudos to Mark Z and his team (some of the smartest people in the world) for bravely leading us into an exciting digital future.

  • Joel Emmett

    Interesting article and the possibility of a more multimedia/interactive Internet is promising.

    But every day I hear more and more of my peers have had it with Facebook, and are leaving altogether.

    And it just seems to want to be the new, old-dial-up AOL -- Internet Lite... with lots of chat rooms! Or is it a new portal site? Or is it a new blogging platform? Or is it...

    It's just Facebook -- a small part of the Internet. And forgetting that, or simply assuming otherwise, is not only egocentric, but dangerous. The glue that holds the Internet together? Who are they kidding (besides themselves)?

  • Steve Hanson

    Yay first person to comment - oh the pressure of saying something inciteful - all sounds pretty good but is it enough to elivate Facebook from the pond life that is a pretty ugly advertising channel?