Sharing apps from the Apple App Store app carries one big caveat -- the share button under the Updates tab has been broken since iOS 7. Elsewhere in the App Store app, the share button grabs the app's title and a short link to the app and drops them into whatever app you select in the share sheet. Under the Update tab all you get is the app's title.
Ok, this is admittedly a bit of an edge case, but it has bitten many a developer who sees that his or her app update is live and then wants to announce it to the world only to share the title without a link. It's bitten plenty of other people too who've seen an update to a favorite app and want to share it.
One of the guiding design principles of Blink is that it should be dead simple to share an affiliate link. So edge case or not, the Update tab bug is one of those things, I wanted to provide a work-around. Since Blink 1.0, if you try to generate an affiliate link from the Updates tab of the App Store app, Blink's extension takes the title it gets from the store and uses it to search the iTunes Search API. Once you chose the app you want from the search results, you've got your link. An extra step to be sure, but an affiliate link where no link at all was possible before.
With iOS 9, Apple introduced a share button to the pop up menu that you get when you select text and just like that, the code that works around the Update tab bug became a whole lot more useful. I love this feature because I didn't have to write any code to implement it, but I think Blink users will find it handy too. Now, if you select text in Mail, Safari, RSS readers, text editors like Byword and really most apps that include selectable text, you can kick off a Blink search based on the selection. In a text editor, you might want to replace an app name with a Markdown formatted link or look up an unlinked app mentioned in your RSS feed that you want to share with a friend. What I like most about this feature is now, affiliate linking is available anywhere you find an iTunes link and almost anywhere you can select text, sanding off one more rough edge so affiliate linking is easier than ever.
Last week I sponsored Connected to announce Blink 2.0. During the sponsor read, Stephen Hackett remarked "I can't believe this thing has only been out since March." Me either. It's been a wild six months.
First of all, thank you to everyone who has rated Blink, written about it, tweeted about it and otherwise spread the word. I cannot express strongly enough how important that sort of word of mouth is for a niche indie app like Blink. It's easy to complain and leave negative reviews, which makes the ones where someone goes out of their way to say something nice that much better.
Six months has gone by fast, but that's just been the tip of the iceberg, at least for me. True, the rest of the world has only had Blink since March, but for me, there were nine months of largely solitary work that preceded Blink's launch. I mention this only because I am sometimes asked what it was like to make Blink and it's even easy for me to forget that it existed before it existed.
That first pre-launch stage was a grind spent trying to figure out whether my idea could be turned into a viable app. Not necessarily a viable product, but just something that sort of worked. This part is hard, living-in-your-head stuff that can end in an endless loop of scab-picking self-doubt that many ideas don't survive.
If your app breaks out of that loop, you're in for something far more terrifying but also critical -- putting your unfinished, broken app in front of people whose opinion you respect. I am lucky enough to know a bunch of people who truly care about app quality and have great taste. This is a great asset, but also a difficult point where you will inevitably need to decide which criticisms and feature requests you are going to listen to and when to just go with your gut. That may all be a little dramatic, and everyone's experience is a little different, but my point is that getting to a launch of anything new is hard; rewarding, but hard.
The third phase -- post-launch -- is where Blink is now. This is the public phase -- the since March bit -- and it has been a blast. Hearing from customers who use Blink, getting their feedback, plotting the direction of Blink and updating it has been exhausting at times, but it's always been satisfying. Knowing that Blink is now part of someone's life and something upon which they rely to get their work done, is really cool.
Which is the long way of getting around to Blink 2.0. It includes things I've been wanting to do from day one and suggestions from my testers that would not exist but for their input. A great example is multiple affiliate token support, which is a suggestion I got before version 1.0 even shipped and that I knew I would do at some point, but put off to get version 1.0 out the door. This may seem like the niche-iest of niche features, but if you are juggling two or more affiliate codes, having a way to save them in Blink and nickname them makes using them much easier.
Another great suggestion I got fairly late in the development of version 2.0 was to include price data. Once you buy or download iTunes media, the price information in the App and iTunes Store apps is replaced by a download or play button. That makes sense for Apple's stores, but it adds a frustrating extra step if you are linking to the media and want to confirm the price. Neither of these features would be in Blink 2.0 without my testers and it's this sort of collaboration and positive feedback loop between users and developers that makes apps better.
Blink 2.0 has a bunch of other cool features too, including side-by-side multitasking. I'm really excited about this one. Just as Blink 1.0's action extension was its secret weapon letting users generate affiliate links from within Apple's stores and third party apps, I think multitasking on the iPad is going to be big for Blink 2.0. No one likes to switch back and forth between apps and now, whether you are looking up media in Blink or via its extension from another app, having it next to your text editor makes it immediately more useful. Keyboard shortcuts will also make searching for media easier for iPad users who use an external keyboard and the ability to edit links in Blink's extension enhances Markdown links because who hasn't run into a title that is a little too long, especially App-Store-Optimized app titles like FancyKey for iOS 8 - Personalize your keyboard with cool Fonts, colorful Themes and beautiful Emoji Art?
So what's next for Blink? Blink, which was conceived as a tool for bloggers to generate affiliate links (Blogger + Link == Blink), has started to become something more. The Apple Music and Apple Podcast App support are just the start. In a world where web advertising is in decline and being actively blocked as user-hostile, it has never been harder for creators to earn a living. Affiliate linking, by its very nature is not in your face and the barrier to entry is nonexistent -- signing up takes all of five minutes, it's free and it scales. Whether you share links with a handful of friends or run a web site with millions of page views an month, the iTunes Affiliate Program is an easy way to add a revenue stream that supports your blog, podcast, book club, or whatever. The point is that it's not just for big web sites or developers, affiliate linking is for anyone who has ever recommended a good book or shared a movie, podcast, or cool new game they discovered and can be part of any business model that includes linking to iTunes media.
We are at a unique moment in time where affiliate linking has the opportunity to take off as a respectful alternative to the gross, in-your-face mess that much of web advertising has become. But to take off, affiliate linking is going to require education and better tools on every platform. That is where Blink is heading.
Months ago Robb Lewis suggested we start a podcast. I was slow to bite. The last several months have been busy as I released and updated my iOS app, Blink. I'm cautious about starting new thing because I have a day job, so my time for side projects is limited. But Robb's idea stuck. Each time I came up for air on something else I was working on, my mind would wander back to what a show with Robb could be. That's when I knew we should give it a go.
On its surface, Ruminate is an Apple-tech-centric podcast. There are a lot of those, but I think Robb and I have a unique perspective that you might enjoy. Lots of people talk about the tools we use to make whatever it is that we make and I enjoy those shows myself. But one thing that I think sets Ruminate apart is its focus not just on the tools, but on how they fit into the process -- how do we use them, why do we use them and where do they fit into our everyday lives? And because there's more to life than gear, we will also be talking about some of the strange or amusing things that cross our paths from time to time, whether that's a weird story we found in a local newspaper or a good movie one of us saw.
Ruminate will be published every two weeks -- you might even say it's a fortnightly podcast, which are all the rage these days. I enjoyed making our first first episode and think it turned out really well, but it's just a start. Robb and I are new at this, so I know it will get better as we learn the ropes of podcasting. We would love to have you along for the ride as the show evolves.
Ruminate's home is at ruminatepodcast.com. You can subscribe to Ruminate via RSS at http://simplecast.fm/podcasts/1306/rss and it should be in iTunes in the next day or two or you can download it directly at http://audio.simplecast.fm/15996.mp3. You can also follow Ruminate on Twitter: @ruminatepodcast.
When Apple Music launched on June 30, 2015, Jim Dalrymple interviewed Eddie Cue and Jimmy Iovine on The Loop. As Jim put it:
When I asked Cue how he would try to convince people that Apple Music was better than competing services, he said, “Ultimately, you can’t convince them, it’s just got to be better.”
Leading up to launch day, Cue, Iovine, Trent Reznor and others made the rounds, spreading the word about Apple Music. That's marketing. But as Cue's response reveals, convincing people that Apple Music is better than alternatives is something altogether different.
The reason that this particular bit of Dalrymple's interview struck me is that it demonstrates an understanding of marketing that I think too many app developers lack. The job of marketing is to get your app noticed, but that's it.
This might seem obvious and simple, but it's lost on many people. Part of the problem is that the cost of marketing is typically clear, but the benefits are a mixture of imperfectly measurable sales and less concrete benefits, like brand recognition, that are hard to measure. Faced with this, there is a tendency to focus on measurable dollars only, a mentality that leads to reductive statements like "I spent $1000 to advertise my app but only made $400," which conflates marketing with sales.
It is important to recognize, however, that when you market your app, you are not buying sales, you are buying attention. Marketing is simply a "Hey! Look at me!" sort of thing, which is not to diminish its importance. In a crowded App Store, getting noticed is harder than ever and effective marketing is critical. But once everyone is looking, you better have something to show off because the attention is fleeting at best.
Analytics are imperfect, but now that iTunes Connect shows how many app store views your app has day-to-day, you can get a much better picture of the attention garnered when you spend marketing dollars. If the attention outstrips the sales, you may need to reconsider aspects of your app and how it is presented in the store. Marketing is necessary to get you noticed, but it isn't sufficient to drive sales by itself.
Which brings me back to Eddie Cue's comment to Jim Dalrymple. The App Store is a big place with around 1.5 million apps. "If you build it, [they] will come" only works in the movies. You have to find ways to get the attention of potential customers. With enough money, you can buy an awful lot of attention, but if your app isn't better than alternatives, the attention won't get you very far. Neither is sufficient by itself. Both are necessary and just one of the many reasons why running an app business is hard.
UPDATE: The article below has been updated to reflect the fact that if a user does not subscribes to Apple Music, affiliate links may still link to the iTunes Store. To ensure that your users are taken where you want them to go, use the "app=itunes" parameter to send them to the iTunes Store and the "app=music" parameter to send them to Apple Music.
Earlier today, Apple announced a change in the way that affiliate links for music are handled. By default, affiliate links to music will now open the new Apple Music app where the music can be streamed. This change means a couple of things for people who use affiliate links to share music.
First, the affiliate link program has been extended to the Apple Music streaming service. If someone uses a link that includes your affiliate credentials to stream music and then extends their subscription at least 30 days beyond the free trial period, you will get a one-time commission. How much you get is listed in this table. In the US, for instance, the comission is currently $5.
Second, links to music now take users to the iTunes Store or Apple Music depending on whether they subscribe to Apple Music. To ensure that users are sent to the iTunes Store, you just need to add an additional parameter to your affiliate URLs: "&app=itunes". Similarly, to ensure that users are sent to Apple Music, add the parameter "app=music" to your affiliate URLs. Note that the parameters, including your affiliate credentials and the new "app=itunes" parameter need to be separated from the base URL by a "?", which is not a new requirement. So for example,
will take you to Apple Music where you can stream the sone, while
takes you to the iTunes Store where you can buy the song. Note also that an "&" need only precede "app=itunes if it is not the first parameter after the "?" in the link.
If you use my app, Blink: Better Affiliate Links to generate affiliate links, the music links you generate with it will currently take your users to the Music app where you may earn a commission if a user signs up for Apple Music service. If you would rather send users to the iTunes Store, you will need to manually add the "app=itunes" parameter for now, but I am working on an update to Blink that will let you automate this process.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to hit me up on Twitter -- @johnvoorhees.
Recently, Apple's iTunes Affiliate Link Maker web app began generating links in the following format: "https://geo.itunes.apple.com." These geo links, as I call them, are a relatively new addition to iTunes affiliate linking that have the potential to significantly improve user experience. The next version of Blink: Better Affiliate Links will give customers the option to add a "geo" prefix to iTunes affiliate links, so I thought it would be worth explaining what geo links are and why you might want to use them.
iTunes media like music, movies and TV shows is restricted based on geography. Not only is some content available only in certain countries, but identical content that is available in multiple countries can be treated as though it is different content. Thus, if you are in the United States and click on an "itunes.apple.com" link for a music album that was generated in the United Kingdom iTunes store, you will get an "Item Not Available" error when the link redirects to iTunes. Geo.itunes.apple.com links address this issue by redirecting the user to equivalent content if it is available in their home store instead of displaying an "Item Not Available" error in iTunes.
For example, let's say I'm on Twitter and I find the following link:
The "gb" in that URL is the country code for the United Kingdom. If I'm signed into the US iTunes Store and click that link, a Safari summary page describing the album will load. If I click the "View in iTunes" button, iTunes will open and take me to the store, but I will get an "Item Not Available" error even though the identical album is also on the US store.
The "geo" prefix greatly improves the situation for users by eliminating the "Item Not Available" error and making it more likely that your links will generate affiliate revenue from users outside your home country. By adding "geo." before "itunes.apple.com" (https://geo.itunes.apple.com/gb/album/running-trax-summer-2015-ministry/id1000584515) I am taken to the US store even though the country code in the link is still "gb."
One downside to geo links and why they will be an option and not the default in Blink is that unlike itunes.apple.com links, geo links do not currently support the display of media artwork in social networks like Twitter. If you are a developer and would like to see artwork supported by geo links, feel free to duplicate the radar I filed with Apple.
About the Author: John Voorhees is the creator of Blink: Better Affiliate Links, an iOS affiliate linking app, which explains his unnatural obsession with affiliate linking.
The dashboard that iTunes affiliate program members use to track affiliate statistics was updated last night. The redesign is a welcome change from the old version, which had limited configurability. Here are some of the highlights:
- The UI has been completely redesigned. The use of color and iconography add up to a much more usable site overall.
- The site feels snappier to me than the old version, both on launch and when adjusting variables in the dashboard.
- Graphs are highly customizable. You can now look at statistics for today, yesterday, this week, the last seven days, the current month, the last 30 days, the year to date or a completely customizable date range.
- The site is responsive. View it on an iPhone and statistics above the graph are limited to one parameter, which can be changed using a drop-down menu. The companion iOS app, ExactView, has not been updated yet and until it is, I will be using the now-superior mobile site to track affiliate links.
- The tables at the bottom of the page now include a column called "Graph" that makes overlaying graphs for those variables more intuitive than it was in the past.
- A real-time "clicks per second" gauge has been added to the botttom of the page for those of you pushing lots of traffic.
The roll-out is not without bugs. When I created a table sorted by country and items purchased with my affiliate links, the table included coutries where no items had been purchased before countries where items had been purchased. Overall, however, the dashboard redesign is big improvement and, with the new analytics found in iTunes Connect, hopefully signals a new emphasis on providing developers, affiliate program members and other third party partners with better analytics.
About the Author: John Voorhees is the creator of Blink: Better Affiliate Links, an iOS affiliate linking app, which explains his unnatural obsession with affiliate linking.
There has been a lot of talk this week about how hard it is to make a living selling software as an indie developer. It has never really been a license to print money, but that's a myth persists as a result of a handful of apps that struck it big during the very earliest gold-rush days of the iOS app store.
This week, Sam Soffes' app Redacted made it to #8 on the Top Paid chart on the US Mac App Store and the very top of Product Hunt, yet he only sold 59 copies of Redacted in the US netting $302 after Apple's cut. Granted, the Top Paid list is not a proxy for revenue — it's more complicated than that — but Sam's story is not new or unique. There have been multiple stories of about how tough it has become to make it as an indie developer and several have left the indie ranks al together.
After I read Sam's story I looked on my iPhone and Mac. Many of the very best apps I use and rely on every day are created by individual, or small teams of, developers. It's these people who are the heart and soul of the Mac community. They create some of the most innovative software, pushing the medium and platforms forward. This week is National Small Business Week in the United States, so why not support your favorite indie developer by buying an app? If you are reading this, you probably already have a bunch of apps from indie developers that you enjoy, but I thought I would put together a list (in no particular order) of my personal favorites. Check them out and if you see any you like, make an indie dev's day and buy one.
Disclosure: Many of the following are affiliate links generated, of course, by my own indie app, Blink: Better Affiliate Links.
- Marked. A Markdown preview app with a Swiss Army knife of other features to help you with your writing.
- StretchLink. Expand and clean up short links in the blink of an eye.
- NVAlt. I have over 1,300 plain text notes in NVAlt, but nothing slows it down.
- Mars Edit. A fantastic blogging tool for writers.
- Fast Scripts. An amazingly powerful scripting tool.
- Napkin. Great for support documentation, trouble shooting, bug reporting, communicating with designers and really doing just about anything that is easier said with a screenshot.
- Audio Hijack. I don't have to grab audio from my Mac too often, but when I do, I always go to Audio Hijack.
- Acorn. There are so many great alternatives to Photoshop out there now. Acorn is one of the best.
- Moom. Moom is one of the first apps I install on a new Mac. I'm not sure how to manage windows without it.
- CodeRunner. CodeRunner is a great place to test snippets of code when you really don't want or need to open Xcode.
- Sketch. A great alternative to Illustrator.
- Ember. Ember is what I used to collect ideas when I was working with @forgottengtowel on the Squibner branding. Great capture and sharing features.
- Redacted. I deal with tons of PDFs and Redacted is the quickest way to redact private information.
- Drafts. Most of my text starts here and is sent elsewhere for processing using Drafts' powerful actions.
- Terminology. Every writer needs a dictionary and thesaurus. Terminology is my favorite.
- Phraseology. I love how I can quickly rearrange a list or paragraphs with this app.
- Pedometer++. I use this app every day to count my steps.
- Emoji++. Emoji++ makes sense of the chaotic order of emoji.
- Feedwrangler (Service/iOS). I use the Feedwrangler service in conjunction with Unread for all my RSS reading.
- TapCellar. A great app for cataloging beers you try and want to remember.
- Overcast. I moved from podcast app to podcast app for years before I found Overcast, which perfectly matches how I listen to my favorite shows.
- Unread. Easy to read RSS with powerful sharing features.
- Quotebook. I love to keep track of quotes I come across. Quotebook makes it dead simple and fast to capture them.
- Launch Center Pro. While Drafts automates my text tasks, Launch Center Pro automates everything else.
- Perfect Weather. Perfect Weather is beautifully designed with just the right amount of data.
- Workflow. I love playing around with complex workflows. It's amazing how much you can do in this app.
- GIFwrapped. Everyone should keep their reaction GIFs close at hand. GIFwrapped is my favorite.
- Tweet Library. I like to keep an archive of my tweets somewhere that I control.
- Letterpress. This game has stood the test of time for me. I have played it nearly every day for the last two years.
- Alto's Adventure. Everyone's favorite endless runner/snowboarding/llama game.
- Threes. Math is hard, Threes is fun.
Mac and iOS
- PCalc (Mac/iOS). PCalc has been around forever in Internet years. It's got every function I need plus so many more and is fully customizable.
- Capo (Mac/iOS). I suck at guitar, but Capo gives me a fighting chance at picking out my favorite songs.
Not three weeks ago, Blink: Better Affiliate Links launched. The overwhelmingly positive response from customers and reviewers has been gratifying. Thank you for all the kind words.
Today, marks the release of Blink 1.01, which cleans up a few rough edges and adds some functionality. Most notably, Blink can now convert tw.appstore.com and tw.itunes.com links, which are used by Apple's official Twitter accounts to promote apps and other media. Link conversion is as easy as using the Blink extension or pasting the links into the Blink search box and tapping search. In addition, Blink's URL scheme now fetches media title when converting links, even if the title is not provided with the link that is converted.
So what's next for Blink? First off, will be adding link conversion support for apple.co short links, which recently started appearing online. Other enhancements and features are in the works too, but it is a little early to announce those just yet. You can keep up with major announcements via the Squibner email newsletter by signing up at squibner.com/blink.
In other news, if you are curious about what the run up and aftermath of Blink's launch was like, listen to my interview with Myke Hurley on Relay.fm's fantastic podcast Inquisitive: Behind the App starting with episode 34, which will be released later this week. This is one of my very favorite podcasts and it was an honor to be asked by Myke to participate. If you have not listened to this special Inquisitive series yet go back and listen to them all. Behind the App is only seven episodes into the series and it really is something special.
Finally, if you have been enjoying Blink and have not yet rated it, please consider leaving a rating and/or review. Reviews and ratings are the best way for others discover Blink and ultimately, fund continuing development.
A voice has been rattling around inside my skull over and over for the last few weeks. It keeps saying "This is Blink." It's not my voice though, it's Myke Hurley's because, you see, he did the voiceover for the Blink preview video and I listened to him repeat those words over and over as I edited the video. His words stuck and got me thinking as launch day approached, "What is Blink?"
For most people, Blink will be a productivity tool. An iOS app that reduces the friction of creating iTunes affiliate links. You can search for apps, movies, tv shows, music or books, create affiliate links and share them on your blog, twitter or wherever else you share links. You can also convert various types of existing links into affiliate links that include your own affiliate credentials. Blink's extension and URL scheme make this especially easy and quick.
I'm really proud with how Blink turned out and I think the people who need and want such a tool will like it. But as I sit here just before releasing Blink to the world, I have to admit that I'm spent. I poured everything I had into making this app a reality; nearly every spare moment of many, many weeks was dedicated to it. That is not a complaint, it's just what it took. I relished every moment of the journey and am pleased with where I have ended up, but now that I can take a deep breath, the fatigue has finally begun to seep in.
I have no idea how many or how few potential customers Blink has or how many of those will buy it. I hope a lot do. For me though, Blink is more than a tool. It's a promise that I made to myself and kept. It was an opportunity to collaborate with Myke, who not only lent his voice to the preview video, but was a constant source of advice and enouragement along the way, and Frank Towers, whose iconography and design touches made the difference between an app I might have hidden away in a folder and one that really shines on my homescreen.
As I sit here, about to release Blink to the world, I have started to ask myself "what's next?" I have some ideas, but no firm answers. The path forward is not clear, but I do know that Blink is most certainly a beginning, not the end, and by that measure, it is already resounding success.
Near the beginning of episode two of Behind the App (Inquisitive 28), David Smith comments that the App Store lowered the barrier to entry allowing him — one guy in his basement — to make apps that compete on a level playing field with apps from big companies like Amazon. That, in a nutshell, is much of what captures the imagination of many independent developers and drives their creativity. It's the spark that ignites "what if."
A lot has changed since the early days of the App Store, and there is no doubt that it is very hard to get noticed today. Some people conclude that this is a sign that the App Store's barriers are too low and should be raised to keep the "junk" out, but limiting access to Apple's developer programs is the wrong tool to address that problem.
Raising the price of the developer programs or taking other steps to limit membership would certainly weed out a lot of apps you might not care about, but it would do far more harm that good. For example, what about the kid learning to code who builds a rudimentary app and wants to share it with his or her friends and family? That sort of app would likely pass App Review, but might never appear on the store if the barriers to entry were too high, which would be a shame. As a parent with three boys, one of whom started selling iOS apps at the age of eleven, I have first-hand experience with the excitement, positive feedback and encouragement that being on the App Store creates. I for one do not want to discourage that.
To my mind, the right direction is to double down on app discovery. Granted, this is no small problem to solve. The sheer number of apps makes it exceedingly difficult to surface the gems, especially on the mobile store. But I would rather that Apple focus on tools for navigating a vast and diverse App Store than have it erect barriers to newcomers.
The playing field that David Smith described is not what it once was. Success is not guaranteed and requires hard work and perseverance, especially for indie developers, but the opportunity that David describes still exists thanks to the low barriers to entry. Closing that door would not fix the shortcomings of the App Store, it would only stifle creativity and innovation.
Which brings me back to Behind the App. If you have not listened yet, you should, it is truly remarkable. I have been thinking about this show a lot since it's launch a few weeks ago. It's special, but not just because the format is different than many other tech podcasts.
Even a few years ago, a podcast with this sort of polished production — produced largely by just one person — would not have been possible. Over time though, the cost of the tools to create a podcast have made the medium accessible to anyone with a desire to give it a go. That is not to say that making podcasts is easy, but as with apps, the barriers to entry are low and the distribution mechanism is relatively inexpensive. And as with apps, finding the best podcasts is is a hard and largely unsolved problem.
It's Myke Hurley's years of experience, hard work and countless interviews with developers that make Behind the App great, but it's the low barrier to entry that made it possible. App development, podcast production and really any creative pursuit share this common ground, the focus should be on creating and maintaining opportunity, not exclusion.
Sometime around January 15th, I noticed that the "Copy Link" action extension that is built into the iOS App Store and the iOS iTunes Store were broken. "Copy Link" is an action extension that is built into the share sheet for each of Apple's iOS storefronts. Beginning with iOS 8, the "Copy Link" copied the title of the item selected in the store and a custom short URL. The trouble is, "Copy Link" no longer copies the short URL to the selected store item in most instances, it only copies the title of the item.
- The bug is global. I have heard from people all over North America, the United Kingdom and Europe who all report the same problem.
- The bug appears to be a server-side Apple issue, not a bug in the apps themselves. This is, of course, conjecture, but seems logical given that there have been no recent updates to the iOS store apps.
- The bug seems to be persistent. Except for one person who reports that the links work intermittently, "Copy Link" appears to have been broken continuously since around January 15th.
- The bug affects more than just the App Store and iTunes Store. The iBooks store is also affected. The Podcast and iTunes U storefronts are not affected however, which is strange because both share the itun.es short URL used by the iTunes Store. Go figure.
- The bug may manifest itself differently on different versions of iOS. I have not tested it myself, but I heard from one person that on iOS 7, "Copy Link" copies the link, but not the title of an item -- the exact opposite of iOS 8.
- Short links still work. Although there is no way to generate a short appsto.re or itun.es URL in the affected apps currently, if you have a previously generated link, it works.
I have submitted a bug report to Apple, which you can find here and duplicate if you wish.
About the Author: John Voorhees is the creator of Blink: Better Affiliate Links, an upcoming iOS app, which explains his unnatural obsession with Apple store links. Find out more at getblinkapp.co
Sometime around January 15, 2015, the iOS App Store and iTunes Store stopped providing links to apps and other media. Hopefully this is just a temporary bug, but it seemed like as good a time as any to consider Apple's uneven history with linking from its stores.
In the beginning iTunes links reflected the WebObjects underpinnings of the store itself and looked like this:
That's a Green Day album by the way. Can't tell? Nor could anyone else.
The next iteration of App Store and iTunes links cleaned things up. That Green Day link became: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/21st-century-breakdown/id315607458. Without too much trouble, you can tell it is an album called 21st Century Breakdown. Look a little closer and you can see that the link points to the US store. These links are still with us today and are the foundation on which the affiliate linking program is based.
The trouble is, in an era of Twitter an itunes.apple.com link is too long -- that Green Day link has 68 characters. Sure, it's better than the old WebObjects links and there are plenty of URL shorteners out there, but third party URL shorteners mask the source of the URL.
One way Apple has dealt with this for a while is with what I call "short search URLs." These are not short URLs in the traditional sense. Instead of sending you to a specific item, a short search URL kicks of an iTunes Store search. If the search returns just one result, you are taken to that result. For instance, appstore.com/logmyrun, takes you straight to the iTunes page for Squibner's run tracking app. But a link like appstore.com/amazon takes you to a search results page with dozens of results.
With iOS 8, Apple quietly added custom short URLs to its iOS App Store and iTunes Store with the formats appsto.re and itun.es, but the implementation undermines the brevity of the links. Instead of just copying a short link, the "Copy Link" action extension copies the title of the item and a short link, which largely defeats the purpose of a short URL, especially with apps where titles are often crammed with SEO keywords. Even an app with a short, non-spammy name like Overcast results in 76 character copied to the clipboard:
Overcast: Podcast Player by Overcast Radio, LLC https://appsto.re/us/jhe90.i
Another issue is that few app extensions handle a mix of text and a URL well, which severely limits the utility of third party extensions within the Apple stores. Most share and action extensions just grab the title of an app, which is the part I am most likely to edit down to something shorter, and miss the URL altogether.
Short URLs are equally frustrating for anyone who uses iTunes affiliate links from an iOS device. The affiliate linking program has come a long way since the days when there were multiple providers covering different regions of the world, but the program works with itunes.apple.com URLs only. That's something we solve natively with our upcoming app Blink, but right now the best solution involves multiple extra steps that can only be mitigated somewhat by a combination of apps like Workflow or Pythonista with an app like Clean Link that can resolve the short URL to something usable as an affiliate link.
Which all brings me back to last night as I was working on Blink and thought I was passing it App Store links. At first I assumed it was me, but I soon discovered that the problem was that the short links had disappeared entirely from the the App and iTunes Stores. As of the writing of this, all that "Copy Link" copies is the title of the item. I'd like to think this portends something exciting like the imminent release of the developer analytics promised at WWDC last June, but more likely it's just a temporary glitch.
Current glitches aside, linking to iTunes media and the affiliate linking program are far better than just a few years ago. That said, there are a few things I would like to see Apple implement in the near term, including:
- consistent use of short URLs across iOS and Mac;
- giving users the option to exclude the title of an item from a copied URL; and
- integration of short URLs with the affiliate linking program.
Those three items alone would vastly improve the linking experience across each of Apple's platforms.
Note: If you are interested in Squibner's upcoming app Blink, you can see some advance screen shots and sign up for updates as we approach the release day at getblinkapp.co.
It's been less than a month, but LogMyRun is about to get a big update with some really cool new features and interface enhancements.
- Run Data Export. Export your running log to a CSV fle via email, which can then be opened in any spreadsheet application like Numbers or Excel.
- Facebook Support. in addition to email and Twitter support, you can now share your runs with your friends on Facebook.
- URL Scheme Support. Add a run, view your log or a graph of your run data via the following LogMyRun-specific URLs:
We've gotten some great user feedback and have some great new features coming soon to LogMyRun, including:
- Exporting - export your data via email in CSV format, which is compatible with spreadsheet apps;
- Facebook sharing - in addition to Twitter, email and SMS, LogMyRun 1.1 will support sharing your runs on Facebook;
- Launch Center Pro Support - quickly add a run, view your log or graph your runs via Launch Center Pro.
- Interface Enhancements;
- And More.