I've been reading two books about web usability issues and tests (Rocket Surgery Made Easy¹ and Prioritizing Web Usability²) and they claim some strategies and typical problems about website usability and how to lead them. However, I want to do a web application, and I think I lost track of what I am trying to solve.

These two books claim to work with raw websites (e-commerce, business sites, even intranet), but I'm not sure if everything about web usability is applicable to web application usability.

They sure talk about always having available (and usable) the Back button, to focus on short information rather than big amounts of text, etc., but they could be inaccurate in deeper problems that may be easier (or just skippable) in regular websites.

Has anybody some experience in this field and could tell me if both web applications and websites share their usability issues? Thanks in advance

Edit: Quoting Wikipedia, a website is a collection of related web pages containing images, videos or other digital assets, and a web application is an application that is accessed over a network such as the Internet or an intranet. To sum up, both shows/lets you search/produce information but websites are "simple" in interaction and keep the classics of websites (one-click actions) and the other one is closer to desktop applications in the meaning of their uses and ways of interaction (double click, modal windows, asynchronous calls [to keep you in the same "environment" instead of reloading it] etc.). I don't know if this clarifies the difference.

Edit 2: Quoting @Victor and myself, a website is anything running in your browser, but a web application is somewhat running in your browser that could be running in your desktop, with similar behaviors and features. Gmail is a web application that could replace Outlook. GDocs could replace Office. Grooveshark could replace your music player, etc.

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    Please clarify the difference between "web site" and "web application". "cloud application would be a better definition" isn't helpful. Or even meaningful.
    – S.Lott
    Jun 22, 2011 at 10:16
  • @S.Lott I added an edition Jun 22, 2011 at 10:27
  • "I don't know if this clarifies the difference." It doesn't. It's still impossible to see how 'websites are "simple"' can possibly be true. Websites (i.e. amazon.com) are quite complex. Web applications can be quite trivial. Can you explain further what you mean?
    – S.Lott
    Jun 22, 2011 at 12:10
  • You took "simple" out of context. I was talking about simple (or could a better adjective be "classic"?) interaction. A web application is somewhat working in your browser (or similar, the desktop version of Grooveshark is a desktop wrapper of the web version) that could perfectly working as a desktop application. Thunderbird/Outlook>Gmail. Openoffice/Office>GDocs. Due to this situation, Gmail and GDocs can use some desktop like interaction such as right click or drag and drop. Jun 22, 2011 at 12:46
  • @Kor: If "A web application is somewhat working in your browser", then please update the question to clarify this.
    – S.Lott
    Jun 22, 2011 at 13:00

1 Answer 1


I don't understand how you define web application usability and website usability.

Whatever usability it is, let me give you a straight answer: YES Care less what you are building, user experience is always important.

  • Yes, I know it is always important and it may determine whether your website will kill others or be killed by others. What I'd want to know if there are specific issues that aren't shared between websites and web applications. By the way, I added a definition of both site and application Jun 22, 2011 at 10:30
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    I always think that web application is like a subset of Websites. Every single url in this world is a website, but whether or not they are a web application, it depends. E.g. Wikipedia is a website, it's not a web application. Gmail is a web application. But let's not get into it so much. I think good usability is needed as a whole, regardless or website or web application. I hope you understand.
    – Victor
    Jun 22, 2011 at 10:34
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    Indeed I agree with you. But there may be some desktop application usability possibilities that can be applied to web applications such as double-click, usable-right-click, always-visible menus, to see if they truly work and are useful, etc. I actually do not want to know if I need to concern about usability in web applications. I look for some differences between both worlds and if I need to double check some typical problems that specifically appear in web applications and don't do in non-web applications Jun 22, 2011 at 10:55
  • I shall get my hands clean of this discussion. So my answer is YES. Let the crowd decide if I am wrong.
    – Victor
    Jun 22, 2011 at 14:49

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