For most users on the Internet, the terms "websites" and "web apps" are used to refer to the same thing.
As a result, they're both thought of as "websites" regardless of the technical definition. This is understandable. After all, a website is viewed in a browser over an Internet connection, and a web app is also viewed in a browser over an Internet connection. Visually, in that browser, there are no distinguishing characteristics between the two. So, how do a Website and a Web app differ?
The answer to the question comes down to function:
· A website is something that presents information to a user.
· A Web app does something, so it is in some way interactive.
This means you can have many different configurations. For example, what is known as a website could really be a Web app. Or, a website could have elements that fall into the “website” definition and others that fall into the “web app” definition. This last example is the most common configuration of web properties on the internet—they are websites that provide information, but they also have functions that allow the user to interact with them.
This is why distinguishing between the two is often so difficult—difficult to the point that many people do not bother to do so.
Let’s look at the example of a sport team’s website. The vast majority of the pages and content on this website will likely be informational, so it falls into the definition of a “website” rather than a “Web app.” This includes things like the news pages, player profiles, fixture lists, league tables, and results pages.
But there is also likely to be a section on the website where fans can register, as well as an online store page where they can buy team merchandise. And there will also be a function that allows fans to purchase tickets to attend matches. In each of these sections of the website the user is interacting with the page, and the website is doing something: logging the user in and showing them their profile, selecting a product choice and processing a payment, or selecting seats and ticket types.
These sections of the sport team’s web property are web apps, so it falls into both categories.
The reality is that most websites have some sort of web app functionality built in. Here are some more examples.
· Wikipedia: This is the ultimate informational website, so it might be defined as a “website” rather than a “web app.” However the function that allows users to log in and edit pages is arguably a web app.
· Simple company website: This is a website that does not sell any products but instead acts as a brochure for a business. However most websites like this will have a contact form and/or a Google map on their contact page. Both of these functions are web apps.
· News website: The news website is another obvious example of an informational Web property; however many allow users to register, comment on stories, and generally interact, moving it into the “web app” sphere.
Thankfully there are some examples of clearly defined web apps. Google Docs is one, and Dropbox is another. They are both delivered to a user through a browser, but they are designed to be interacted with, rather than merely consumed (read, watched, etc.).
Even the phrasing used in this article demonstrates the difficulties faced when trying to make a distinction between a website and a web app, because the term “website” is often used to describe a website that also contains an app.
The bottomline is, apps do something, while websites simply display information.