Apps vs Media

People who know me know that I sometimes don’t explain myself sufficiently. So it was the other day, when I asked Kamil to clean up a mockup…. To my surprise, Kamil put in a navigation bar at the top, and rearranged the display to simplify it. When I asked him why, he asked me — do you want a web app or a web site? I’ve just standardized the web site interface, so that users know what they are doing.

I told him it was supposed to be a web app, and that the prominent nav bar would be distracting. He asked me to define what I meant by a web app, vs. a web site. As this was a chat conversation, I took a few moments to search … someone else must have posted a handy definition, that I could refer to.

To my surprise, a good definition didn’t pop up. It would seem that web apps are taken to mean sites that had lots of javascript. But obviously this isn’t what Kamil was asking me to get at.

Here is my take: a web app has a state that the user takes a hand in creating, whereas on a web site, state can be mapped to “position”, in which the user explores. A site, or other media, is “there” independent of the user, whereas in an app, what is there depends on the user.

Obviously these categories are made to be subverted. Interactive stories try to allow the user to “co-create” the flow of the plot, and huge numbers of sites allow the user to create some content, if only a post or a profile. But I think these poles are useful: app — intensional, site — extensional.

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