Websites Vs. Webapps, What’s the Difference?

“Programs and other operating information used by a computer” – that is the definition of the term software, and from that definition comes basically everything that we (as a society) do in regards to computers, hardware notwithstanding. Software is obviously a pretty broad term when it comes defining a digital product and although user experience is not relegated specifically to the internet or applications, this article will focus on defining examples of software that lives on the internet, namely; websites and web applications (web-apps).

Websites and Web Applications

When you are viewing content on the internet through a browser, every single website, page, experience, e-shop and social network can be categorized into two broad taxonomies; Websites and Web-Apps. These two categories of digital products are very similar in terms of appearance and how they are accessed. In fact, if you asked a few different people in the industry you’d probably get more than a few different answers, but generally, the arguments will boil down to this:

  • Websites are focused on being informative.

  • Web-Apps are interactive.

This means that static pages that exist to showcase information that doesn’t routinely change are websites. Think of a local restaurant site that has a menu, store locations, hours of operation and maybe an image gallery, this is an example of a simple website. Take those same restaurant pages and add in some functionality that allows guests to set up a reservation and will hold a table for them (assuming they have means of establishing a deposit) without the customer calling the restaurant, you have a web application. Web-Apps require users to input information and will provide feedback based on that information. Another common example of a web-app would be a simple eCommerce website that allows a user to purchase a product online and have it shipped to his location.

Here’s where the confusion around these terms comes in, as how a user interacts with the digital product is what defines the product itself. For example, if a user is using an eCommerce site as a primary source of information regarding the company (and not purchasing its products), the digital product in question (the eCommerce site) isn’t being used as an application but rather as a source of static information (IE a website). So similar to as how all squares are rectangles but all rectangles aren’t squares; all web-apps are websites but not all websites are web-apps.

While the nomenclature may have little impact on the final designs of the digital product, as good UX design is platform agnostic, understanding what you are building and learning how to communicate these concepts can assist your team in further establishing your expertise in the digital realm and build rapport with your clientele. Remember, half of being a good designer (at least) is being a good communicator.