Website vs. Web App?

November 12th, 2010 54 Comments

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:

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.


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54 Responses to “Website vs. Web App?”

  1. Marketing With Web Applications – But First Differentiate Between Web Applications And Websites | Your development help Says:

    […] Finally, someone is here to answer. I searched against ‘difference between websites and a web applications’ and got many results. But the best one that made my day and let me wrote this post was by Jake Kuramoto. […]

  2. web Says:

    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….

  3. Jens Oliver Meiert Says:

    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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