Website vs. Web App?

For no real reason, I asked myself a question yesterday: what’s the difference between a website and web app?

Failing to come up with a concrete set of differentiators, I took my question to Rich (@rmanalan), and subsequently stumped him.

He eventually boiled the differences down to:

  • A web application is an application that’s accessed through a web browser.
  • A website is a series of pages or documents that may embed media (images, video, etc) that’s accessed through a web browser over the internet.

And then pointed me to Wikipedia’s thoughts on web application vs. website.

It’s not an easy question to answer, especially when you examine existing web presences that have been around a long time and have evolved, e.g. Amazon.

Bill (@btaroli) came up with a pretty good answer via Twitter:

After noodling for a day, there is no cut/dried answer. I would classify Amazon as a web app. Google Search too. If only because they perform tasks for the user.

Using that definition, websites are informational, e.g. CNN.com or NFL.com. However, when you start to categorize that way, you find nearly every site is a hybrid, e.g. NFL.com now includes fantasy football and game tickets, CNN.com includes sharing and commenting capabilities, all of which are web apps.

So maybe the pure website is a thing of the past, or it’s targeted as marketing, e.g. corporate websites.

Think about this for a bit, especially with examples, and you’ll see how defining the two is a slippery task.

If you get a clear set of definitions, find the comments and enlighten us all.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

54 comments

  1. see website is what where there is no processing at the back end…..
    but where there is the processing at the back end its web application….

  2. I believe this distinction is more important today than it ever was (hence this delayed response). Why? Because the two can be so different that we as web developers cannot apply the same set of ideals and best practices to them. Websites are to be developed differently than apps—and that is something we should also reflect in our standards.

    (Some more thoughts, for who’s interested: http://meiert.com/en/blog/20140722/docs-and-apps/.)

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