New Poll: Is There a Line Between Web Apps and Web Sites?

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

Every once in a while I’ll hear people say something along the lines of “well that’s for web sites, but it’s not really relevant for web apps.” That implies there is some kind of line that separates the two. Different needs and rules that change the game and alter the conversation around them. Is it true?

The new poll up in the sidebar asks this question:

Is it useful to distinguish between “web apps” and “web sites”?

I’m asking in a very broad way. Is this a generally useful distinction to make that will help conversations and blog posts and conference talks and thus alter how we think and work on the web going forward? It’s a boolean choice to make the results more clear:

  • Yep. They are different things with different concerns.
  • Nope. It’s all just the web.

Food for Thought

A restaurant site that displays hours, the menu, and photos. That’s a web site right? But what if you add an interactive map for directions. Is it a web app now? Or a web site with an embedded web app? What does it change? What if you could make reservations through the site?

Is the distinction as simple as “you log in to web apps”? What if you could log into a blog site, but the only reason you did that was to leave comments without having to type your name every time (and for spam protection). The site was otherwise just full of articles. Is that a site or app?

Is the distinction related to “you go there to browse” vs. “you go there to do stuff”?

Are sites all about content, while apps all about performing actions? What about a newspaper website with a paywall, customizable subscriptions, and re-arrangeable modules? Certainly a newspaper site is about content, so what does that make it?

Where do social media apps fall? How about sites where you build things? Online photo editors? Accounting apps? Bank software? Does “content” generally mean public content or can it refer to user generated or private content also?

Perhaps there are more practical differences to focus on. Perhaps sites have lots of navigation while apps have less. Perhaps sites need to assist more in search and discovery of content while apps less-so. Sites might need to consider things like Responsive Web Design more seriously, since it’s open and the traffic could come from anywhere. Whereas on apps, it’s more reasonable to ask someone to use specific software to get done what they need to.

Are sites “easier” than apps? Vice versa?

If there is a gray line, how thick is it? Is it still useful to know where you sit on that spectrum?