Web Apps vs. Web Sites (was: Universal Navigation for Web Apps)

On Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM, Justin D'Arcangelo
<justindarc@gmail.com>wrote:

> there needs to be a differentiation between
> web sites and web *apps*.
>

While we might be able to describe characteristics that conceptually
separate a "web site" from a "web app", I think in reality they will exist
on a continuum.

Chris Jones is right that we need more data from actual app developers on
this, but I can provide some anecdotal evidence by telling the story of a
web app I worked on which got listed in a web app store.

I worked on a web-based collaboration platform which I would describe as
being about half way between a traditional web site and what we would
describe as a web app.

The product had the common problem of trying to get discovered by users in
a crowded market. We looked to the Chrome Web Store as a marketplace where
users could discover our app and "install" it in Chrome so that it appeared
as a big shiny icon on the new tab page.

To get our app into the store we just had to submit an app manifest, an
icon and a description. That first step was easy and didn't really require
us to modify our existing product at all (it still looked a bit like a web
site and it didn't use any of the privileged APIs available to installed
apps).

Then we realised that to really get a lot of people to install the app we
needed to get it featured in one of the curated sections of the store so we
met with Google to find out how to do this. Google "features" apps which
have had a sudden increase in installs, which they think are cool or that
they think behave in a particularly app-like manner. This includes things
like automatic login (using Google's whitelisted Google Accounts OpenID
server), so that the user doesn't have to log in every time they open the
app (for us this would be BrowserID). It also includes using the privileged
APIs available to installed apps like offline storage and geolocation, or
just visually looking more like a web app than a web site.

We set a roadmap to start to make the web site more app-like over time - to
automatically login, work offline, work better on mobile devices etc.

Certainly for existing web properties this is how I see web apps moving
into the Mozilla Marketplace (and other Open Web App stores).

I guess what I'm saying is that we need to take into account that the line
between "web sites" and "web apps" is a blurred one and our UI needs to be
flexible enough to be able to take this into account. That might mean
initially allowing the user to "install" arbitrary web sites that aren't
actually apps as bookmarks on the home screen, or providing navigational
controls for apps that aren't very app-like yet.

I agree with Chris that over time the market will favour the apps that
provide a better experience, but this transition could take a while.

Ben

-- 
Ben Francis
http://tola.me.uk
0
Ben
3/15/2012 1:13:24 PM
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