Health IS Technology Blog

What’s the Difference Between a Web Application and a Website?



Could you tell me the difference between LCD and LED TVs right off the bat? Or how about explaining the difference between jam and jelly? These are questions that the common bystander probably couldn’t answer promptly, and there’s good reason for it. The same goes if you were to trying to tell the difference between a website and a web application. Trying to compare and contrast the two brings up a lot of blurred lines, and we know how much everyone hates those blurred lines.

Some may argue that the divide between a website and a web application isn’t that distinct. Technically speaking, you could access many web applications (like G-Mail) through a web browser which in reality makes it a ‘website’. But many websites have also been converted into applications as well. So how do we decide what constitutes a website or web application?

On the surface, it all boils down to semantics 101. You’ll notice a trend that we’re starting to categorize and classify everything. This allows for a more concrete and definitive set of properties to be attributed to an object. Categorizing helps us rationalize and distinguish all the different types of objects although in the long run, it may leave us with the tendency to over-categorize and make up new ‘pointless’ categories. While over-categorizing may lead to new musical subgenres like post-modern shoegaze and hollywood sadcore, it does grant certain categories to constantly change and be redefined. So where does that leave us when categorizing websites and web applications? Does it really make a difference what they’re called? Does “…“website” just sound old-fashioned, and “web app” lends your product a more up-to-date, zingy feeling on par with the native apps available from the carefully-curated walled gardens of app stores.1

When I try to distinguish between the two, a website is a one way street of information, whereas a web application is much more dynamic and is heavily focused on the user’s end. Basic right?


We can view a website as something as simple as a brochure. Like a brochure, a website’s purpose is to inform and present itself to an audience on a specific subject. The content is consumed only by the user. Because websites function to disseminate content, the user doesn’t have much or any control in altering the content and it ultimately won’t affect the content when other users view that site. And by nature, a user request to retrieve information on a website will typically return archived and static content that’s already been produced.

We’ve seen how websites evolved over the years as they’ve been recently designed to look more like apps. Take for example. Naturally, we’re used to calling it a website, but it’s functionality across the board has arguably the look and feel of an app as there’s a heavy emphasis on user input. This isn’t to take anything away from defining what a website is, but it’s something to recognize as many websites have been gravitating towards an app restructuring lately – even if it’s reformatting the site to be mobile friendly and responsive.

Web Application

Ok, so now on to the fun stuff that everyone’s so gung-ho about – web apps. With web apps, there’s more of an emphasis on user interaction to achieve a specific task. A user’s web activity can affect the content that’s being presented to both the user and select others who view the web app. More specifically, the dynamic content / data generated or modified by the user will be able to result some output of content / data. At the end of the day, web applications can be seen as user-centric tools that can be fully customizable to their needs.

Truthfully, when I think of an ‘app’, it’s become such a buzz word that’s now become part of our daily colloquial language, especially in the mobile world. The popularity of applications on the web has skyrocketed due to our yearning for more task-oriented apps. We like apps that helps us with productivity, collaboration, sharing, and adding cats when we’re editing our photos. Even in a workplace setting, work performance is measured by metrics and how quickly a task can be performed – the rise of web applications helps us do those things.

Examples: Google Docs, iCloud, EMR Systems, Box


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