Website Vs WebApp

You have a great idea that is going to change the world, or make you lots or money, or both. You get some funding to take your idea from concept to product and you know it needs to be something that should be accessed through internet. You find a development company that says they can help you make your vision come true. You call them up, schedule a meeting, and you say to yourself, “I’m going to make this happen.” Your meeting comes up and you make your way over to the development company’s office. You sit down with a very odd bunch of people who smile at you and make you feel like you are making the best decision of your life. Then the first person quickly asks you a question that makes you panic immediately, “Do you need a website or web application?”


You panic for a second trying to figure out the difference. You say something along the lines of I just need it to be accessible on the internet. Once again, they ask the same question. You feel slightly lost since you have no clue what the difference is. So you just begin to explain what you want and of course they eventually catch on to what you need. The meeting moves on, you relax again, and eventually it all goes well. However, you still are not for sure why they even asked that question at all if you were able to communicate what you needed by simply explaining it.


To put it simply, that question is not so much for you as it is for us developers to know the thought path that they need to take you down.


The Quick & Dirty Answer

To quickly answer the question of what is the difference between a website and web application, let me explain it this way. When you go to a business’s website you will see a lot of text, pictures, videos, a cool design, and maybe a way for you to get in contact with that business. Your interaction with the website is limited to you clicking around, reading the content, watching some videos, or just typing in an email to send to them. Now your best friend down the street, who thinks just like you, went to the same website as you did at the same time. For them, the experience was exactly the same as it was for you. They read the same content and was able to do the same things you did on the website. This is your sign that you are on a website and not a web application. In fact, a majority of the web is composed of websites. However, the most popular items on the web tend to be web applications and those are the places you go that serve a particular purpose in mind for you. Whether it's watching a movie (Netflix), posting your status (Facebook), or shopping for new shoes (Amazon), web applications tend to serve your needs where websites serve you general information.

The Low Down

You may now have a general idea of the difference between a website and a web application. However, in some cases, it is not so clear which one you actually need. Maybe I want users to subscribe to my website, maybe I want to have an active blog, maybe I want users to be able to chat with me through the website, etc. Those types of questions can make it unclear for which web solution you are looking for. I could break this down over a large set of of explanations and bore you with the semantics of why something is a website or a web application, but I would rather have you answer that yourself through some questions that I think will help you reach that decision.


Question

Answered No

Answered Yes

Does the information you need to present to the user need to change often (every day, every hour, every minute)?

Website

WebApp

Does a user need to log in?

Website

WebApp

Should the user experience vary based on the type of user? (Should one person be able to see and do things that another may not be able too?)

Website

WebApp

Do you want people to buy things?

Website

WebApp

Do you only need a blog?

WebApp

Website

Do you only need a subscription list?

WebApp

Website

Do you only need people to contact you from it?

WebApp

Website

Are you more concerned with how it looks over what it does?

WebApp

Website

Do you want to collect information about your users or collect information from your users?

Website

WebApp

Could you see this as an application on an iOS device or Android device?

Website

WebApp

Is it providing a service for the user?

Website

WebApp


Hopefully, you should be able to know if your product is a website or web application. The most powerful question above that helps my clients the most is if they could see this as an application on a person’s phone. As soon as they answer yes, I know they need a Web Application instead of a Website. In all honesty, the difference between a web application and a mobile application is basically the platform on which it runs. Of course there are more details that define the difference between the two, but as a client you should not be concerned too much with that since it is our job as developers to know those details.

Ok, So Why Do I Need To Know The Difference?

The main reason we ask that question up front is to save us and you time. It allows us to define the thought process we need to direct you down when discussing your product. If we have to listen to your entire vision first to decipher exactly what you need we are not able to focus on the important questions we need to ask. When a client first has to explain it to us is one giant speech, we then have to decide in our heads what you actually need, and consequently we make you start all over in your explanation in order to ask the questions we need in order to clarify the amount of work that needs to be done for your vision. This usually takes up a lot of time and sometimes can make you frustrated for repeating yourself over and over.


The second reasoning is to help the developers and you focus on the important details at first. If you need just a website, you may see some of the developers get up and leave, which is ok. They do not need to know about the content and the colors that need to go on your website. Those things are better geared toward the designers and marketers sitting at the table. The website answer gives the designers and marketers the clue that they need to be listening to you intently so they can better help you focus in on your website look, feel, and message. However, if you say web application the developers will scoot in closer to listen to every word that you have to say. If you start to explain the web application and drift into what it looks like, the developers will make you stay on topic of what the application is rather than the design. The developers are more concerned with you being completely aligned on what your web application needs to do rather than how it looks. Once the developers have a clear explanation of what it does, the designers will then chime in to start to ask those how it looks and feels. By the time you leave the meeting everyone will be able to see your vision.

Wrap Up

You now should be able to feel confident when talking with developers about your needs of either a website or a web application. If you are still not for sure what you actually need do not be afraid to just tell them that you are not for sure what you need. If they are good developers, they will not judge you for not knowing and they should be able to ask you questions to help you and them figure out what you need. The first step of any development for the web is just knowing what you need. Just the fact that you are reading this tells me that you are a very serious client that is looking for the best means possible to bring their vision to life. With this small piece of understanding, developers will take you more seriously when you can answer that original question with confidence.