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The Crowded Race to See Inside Apps

There is a new arms race to make apps behave like websites—and leading technology companies are making their play.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and a handful of startups are rolling out new ways to link to specific content inside apps, taking aim at one of the trickiest problems in the mobile industry. Unlike websites, apps don’t identify specific content with specific links. Rather, they consist of walled-off photos, posts and items that Google’s search engine can’t crawl and social media sites can’t link to.

That is a big potential problem for mobile ads, search and its successors, like Siri, which all want to tap information inside apps. So, the biggest Internet companies are pushing new technology known as “deep linking”. They are heralding 2014 as the year the technology, which involves creating identifiers for items in apps, goes mainstream. But they are each taking a different approach. The result is a hodgepodge of methods that must be standardized, developers say.

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Mr. Milinovich estimates that as many as a quarter of the largest retailers use deep links. But he and industry analysts estimate that only 10% of developers overall do.