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Discussion on: Website or web app? What is the difference between the two?

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Adam Brandizzi

I seems to be quite a subjective distinction but there is some ideas of what each could mean:

  1. A web site is mostly about content. It may be static or dynamic, but we are mostly interested in information from it. The user interactions are about the content. We read (or listen, or watch) it and that's it.

  2. A web app is mostly about interactions and processing. Users are expected to spend a good time giving commands to the app through clicking, typing etc. There is content, for sure, but the most interesting part of a web app is that the computer will do something with it.

Comparing to offline content, web sites are more like PDFs, text documents and presentations: they can be dynamic and interactive but I'm mostly expecting to consume their content. Web apps are more like spreadsheets, forms, inventory software etc.. In fact, the web app concept arose from developers who hacked the old web technology to make pages respond to user input. Many of the things we call web apps today are almost literal translations from old VB/Delphi programs.

In practice, those are overlapping categories. Dev.to, for example, is a web app where we write text, preview it, publish it etc. It is also a web site with a lot of content. When I was reading your post, I was using dev.to as a web site. Now that I'm commenting it, it is a web app to me.

So, I'd use these terms mostly to give emphasis on a specific aspect of a web site.