Web applications, Web sites - Boundaries

4 May 2010 - 3:00am
4 years ago
9 replies
1295 reads
makabde
2009

Hi all,

Yesterday, I had an interview for a position at a major online selling company. While discussing my work and my vision of usability and design, few questions came and I thought it could be a good point to share some of them and to have your inputs about these thoughts.

1. How are you making the difference between a web app and a website?

2. Do you consider Google as a web app or a website?


Feel free to answer or to give your thoughts about theses questions as I am looking to have different points of view.

Makram

Comments

4 May 2010 - 3:24am
kishor
2009

Hi,

According to me, a web app is made up of various tasks - user interaction is "task-oriented" whereas website is more of a "content-oriented" thing. Google i think is a website as it doesnt invovle various tasks as such (apart form hitting search button). But there are some sites which are both sites and apps e.g. e-comm sites.

4 May 2010 - 6:51am
Anonymous

I almost agree with kishor. However, a web app is be definition a website assuming it's being served by a web server such as apache/IIS etc. Outwith that, I agree on the definition on a web app being a website that requires (provides?) some form of user interaction, beyond selecting pages to display, which takes input and provides output. I would not consider a content only website to be a web app.

I disagree that Google is not a web app, however. A search option on a content website may not be considered a web app perhaps, but that is the sole purpose of the Google search engine and it provides a great deal of customisation (preferences). Then there are all the other google web apps: mail; wave; adwords; analytics; checkout; etc. So yes, I believe that Google is a website provider with multiple web apps.

4 May 2010 - 8:20am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

What then is a "web app" that is not publicly available on the internet? I have designed many such applications that are served up internally. I have referred to them before as browser-based applications, but generally call them "web apps". They use all the same technologies and run in a web browser, but I would never refer to them as websites.

Best, Jack

On May 4, 2010, at 8:15 AM, cmorrell wrote:

> I almost agree with kishor. However, a web app is be definition a website assuming it's being served by a web server such as apache/IIS etc.

>

4 May 2010 - 7:22am
Matt Obee
2009

I also agree that a Web app is a Web site with a clearly-defined functional purpose, beyond just displaying content. I think Jesse James Garrett's distinction between the Web as an information space and as a software interface in his Elements diagram (PDF) is a handy model.

4 May 2010 - 7:49am
Alan James Salmoni
2008
To me (this is off the top of my head), a website satisfies information needs. Webapps satisfy task-based needs but can be a subset of a website.
4 May 2010 - 9:20am
Jithesh Ramesh
2010

In my opinion a website is a collection of information and content the user want to browse through or view / read etc.
A web app is more or tasks that user has to perform.
Google Wave to me is an App, Gmail is an App
Google Search is an App, cos it helps you search...
Google About page or Android Website etc are not apps...
But now the divide is getting narrower, due to the capability of the technology to collaborate and review by a group, for example a comment section in a website makes it more of an app, the share widget makes the website have a plug in pods which are apps...
My thoughts
Jithesh

On Tue, May 4, 2010 at 7:38 PM, makabde <makram.abde@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi all,

Yesterday, I had an interview for a position at a major online selling company. While discussing my work and my vision of usability and design, few questions came and I thought it could be a good point to share some of them and to have your inputs about these thoughts.

1. How are you making the difference between a web app and a website?

2. Do you consider Google as a web app or a website?

Feel free to answer or to give your thoughts about theses questions as I am looking to have different points of view.

Makram

4 May 2010 - 10:16am
Jared M. Spool
2003

This is something that has come up a lot in the design of our UIE Web App Masters Tour program, as it was important to understand what the key design challenges for web app designers are.

There's a temptation to distinguish web apps from content, as Jitesh did. So, one could look at Wikipedia and say that's a content site.

However, Wikipedia has a magic "Edit This Topic" button, at which point it becomes an app, with all the design challenges that come with application development.

In my mind, the distinction between app and content has become less and less important. If content is about information delivery, the Amazon book page or Netflix movie page certainly does that. But then there are rating stars, which send a message back to the server to indicate how the user feels about the book or movie. There are "Was this helpful?" buttons that indicate whether a review was helpful. There's an Add to Wishlist button, an Add to Queue button, and a Buy This Now button, all of which are application components.

Even a news site, such as CNN.com, is adding the Facebook "Like" button.

App components and interactions are bleading into traditional content-only pages. Therefore, I believe the distinction between apps and web sites are no longer important or meaningful.

That's my $0.02

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool@uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com  Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks  Twitter: @jmspool

4 May 2010 - 10:26am
Dave Malouf
2005

Building off of what Jared said, I think the distinction is almost pointless. It's right up there with where does IA end and IxD start. Content and task are the same. I use content to satisfy a need. From the end-user perspective consumption of information is a task/activity as much as sending an email or writing a wikipedia entry. Yes they have different postures and different needs but so does banking vs. photo-editing/sharing or doing twitter.

The questions that people should be asking are much more complex than this and these types of questions lead to "truisms" which cannot be maintained in the complex world of practice. Content and activity are everywhere in different ratios at different times within all experiences. Web, desktop, mobile, other.

-- dave

4 May 2010 - 8:36pm
Nickgould
2009

Funnily enough I was asked to develop a presentation (my first conference speaking engagement) on exactly this topic and I had a heck of time making sense of it. I agree with Dave that bright line distinctions like this hurt more than they help, but I did, ultimately, conclude that categories like "website" or "application" can act as process shortcuts in that they help to define an initial set of design assumptions that will guide you throughout the design process - and that you can return to over and over again as you are considering design approaches or new content and functions.

For me, one of the key considerations was "motivation" - i.e. how compelled am I to overcome potential complexity or unfamiliarity and figure out how to use this thing. In the application context, it seems often the case that users are more highly motivated - either because of the application's value to the user or because they are forced to use them (e.g. in the context of doing my job or interacting online with a service, like cable TV, that offers me no alternative).

Viewed in this light, I think Jared's point about the mixture of website-like functions with application-like functions becomes even more interesting for designers because it's necessary to shift one's understanding of user goals and mindsets even within the design of a single "product."

So I'd propose that the distinction is not a "rule" - but rather another technique for thinking through design principles and priorities.

NG

Syndicate content Get the feed