Branch Deepviews: Routing Around The Damage of Apps and App Stores


Over and over again, the press and pundits are declaring the death of the “web we once knew.” And despite having solid proof to the contrary, I’ve always responded that the web will never die, though it may well challenge our thinking as it evolves into entirely new form(s). In short, I can’t imagine a world where we can’t link from one object of value to another, seamlessly and without gatekeepers. It’s such a fundamental and obvious value-creation platform, if something ever impeded its continued creation, the world would simply do what the Internet has always done: Identify that impedance as damage, and route around it.

Inspired in part by an accretion of that impedance in the form of Apple and Facebook, a  year or so ago I went on something of a mobile walkabout. I wanted to understand if the “web I loved” was truly on its way out. I met some interesting new companies along the way, and in particular got excited about the promise of “deep linking” in mobile apps, which was a fairly new trend back then. Indeed, I predicted we were close to a “quickening” in mobile, where the value of links between applications and the broader Internet would tip, opening up the path for a new kind of mobile web.

This past Wednesday, Branch Metrics, one of the companies I met along my walkabout, made what seemed to be a relatively mundane announcement. It was summarily written up in TechCrunch, but got little press beyond that. So why did it rip up the charts on Product Hunt, garnering more upvotes than any other tech product that day? Well, for one, the product solves a very real problem for developers who haven’t built a mobile web version of their application. Here’s the issue: Say you’re browsing the web (IE, using a browser), and encounter a link to neat feature inside a spiffy new app. If you haven’t already installed the app, that link would take you to the app store, where you’d have to download the app. Once you’ve waited for that download (and that can take a while), you would then need to open the app, find the place where the original link was pointing to, and continue in your journey.

Needless to say, this is not an experience that converts many new customers.

Branch Metric’s original product allowed developers to turn that original link into a “deep link” that carried the original destination (that neat feature inside the spiffy app). This greatly increased conversion and usage of apps, and built a bridge between various flavors of the web (namely, mobile to mobile, mobile web to mobile web, PC web to mobile, etc.). To support all these new deep links, Branch stood up a robust infrastructure that, in essence, scaffolded all these different flavors of the web.

Branch’s new announcement took their original idea an important step further. Called Branch Deepviews, they offer a way for developers lacking a mobile web version of their app to create a web-ready preview of their apps’ content on the fly. In essence, Branch has found a way to route around the damage of the app store, and in the process is creating a bridge between the mobile web, the PC web, and mobile applications. Standing up your Deepviews and your Branch links is free – a fact that is certainly not hurting adoption of Branch’s solutions.

Back in February I noticed that Branch had raised a healthy $15 million Series A round. That’s a lot of money for a lean mobile development firm, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Now I see what the cash is for: Branch is making a serious web infrastructure play – one that reminds me of another early stage firm with a big vision and a major infrastructure-based solution.

That firm was Google. Fifteen or so years ago, Google was a small company struggling to create a scaffolding around the Internet that allowed it to scale its search product. In order to do so, it landed on a insane-sounding solution: Take a copy of the entire world wide web and place it in computer memory across Google’s own infrastructure. By the year 2000, Google was seeing about 60 million searches a day. Today, Branch is already driving 100 million unique individuals a day across its servers.

I may be pushing the speculative edge of reason by making this comparison, but far more improbable things have happened in our industry. And that’s why I think Branch Metrics is a company to watch.  They’ve identified app stores and silo’d mobile applications as damage, and they’re building the infrastructure our industry needs to route around it. I sense the tipping point is nigh.

NB: I am an advisor to Wrap, another promising company in this space, and one I hope to write about soon. 

One thought on “Branch Deepviews: Routing Around The Damage of Apps and App Stores”

  1. “In short, I can’t imagine a world where we can’t link from one object of value to another, seamlessly and without gatekeepers. It’s such a fundamental and obvious value-creation platform, if something ever impeded its continued creation, the world would simply do what the Internet has always done: Identify that impedance as damage, and route around it.”

    Here is the issue as I see it: It’s not that we will ever lose the ability to link from one object to another. I agree with you; that will go away. No, the issue is being able to avoid bringing along baggage along with that link.

    Let me state that in another way: What made the original web magical was that it worked without the need for centralization.

    But what did Google do remarkably well? It wrapped the Internet in centralization. In two ways. First, as you say later in your post, it created a copy of the entire web on its own servers. So rather than web search working in a peer-to-peer manner, as did services like Kazaa (remember that?) back in the day, it worked via centralization.

    The second centralizing force was analytics cookies. Not every site on the web has the google analytics cookie installed. But a helluva lot do. That centralized information is then used in a constant feedback manner, to alter web search results, to personalize, to essentially affect the information that is recommended to us.

    Thus, even when I am on the free and open web, everywhere I go is being tracked and reported back to some central server. The hyperlink has lost its ability to be completely peer to peer, without baggage. The hyperlink hasn’t gone away. But it now has a wrapper around it.

    And it’s not just Google. This is the way of the modern internet. It’s not that someone can’t create a hyperlink without wrapping it in baggage. It’s that no one does.

    I realize that I’m making a bit of a Nick Carr “Glass Cage” argument here. Certainly that’s part of it. But my point more specifically that there is an unavoidable, intertwined loop between free and open-hyperlinking versus capturing the value that hyperlinking creates. Just as you say that if something were to impede the creation of a free and open hyperlink, the internet would just route around that, so it is also true that as that around-routing creates value (as it invariably does), so too will come individuals and companies that will re-wrap, re-centralize the new route back into a managed, value-capturing enterprise. Maybe the world will never stop creating routes to break out, but the world will also never stop being able to reabsorb those routes back into a managed whole.

    Frankly, that’s wearying.

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