Is a Site an Application?

We’ve always viewed a website as an application, but we often get quizzical looks or harsher reactions from clients and partners.

Let’s start at the most basic level and define a website and a web application. Wikipedia defines a website as, “a set of related web pages served from a single web domain,” and a web application as, “any application that uses a web browser as a client.” Given these base definitions, it is clear a website is indeed a web application. Let’s dig a little deeper to confirm and talk practically about our view.

An application of any type, size and scope needs to be a living, breathing entity. Applications lose their value over time if they aren’t updated and adjusted to changes within the business landscape they serve. We call this the productization of applications. Regardless of why you have developed an application and whether it is a web, mobile or other type, you have also entered into the realm of product management. To receive business outcomes from an application for a long period of time you should have a roadmap in place that allows you to systematically update it. The application roadmap can be started as soon as you are thinking about developing an application, but certainly should be in place for phase two of an application before phase one is complete.

A website falls within this spectrum of an application as a product, because no one should have a static site that doesn’t, at a minimum, get continually refreshed with content. Just as you have a content plan for a site, you should have a functional plan or roadmap to introduce new functionality and to extend the site to be increasing in value over time. Even if your site has very limited functionality and is mostly a content distribution channel, the type and manner in which you distribute the content will change. Acknowledging and planning for these content and functional changes will get you in the mindset and execution of treating your site like an application and product.

Another aspect of a web application that also applies to websites is the concept of inputs and outputs. An application fundamentally takes information or data in and produces some form of output. Application inputs can be provided by people or by other applications and systems. Application outputs can be to a device screen, to other applications and systems, in the form of reports, documents, presentations, etc.

Websites also have inputs and outputs, but they are often just less obvious. The content you want a site to display is your input. The content gets delivered to the site from Content Management Systems (CMS), or you might enter it directly into the site, but this information is your input however it gets to the site. The site then displays the content in a predefined way to a device screen based on the way you have structured your site. The display of the content is your output.

If you think of your site as an application and treat it accordingly, you will be in a much better position to have a site that provides the value both you and your site visitors want.