Building on the web isn't building for the web

| 1 min read

Today I read “Web Apps Are Not A Thing, Please Stop” by Robin Rendle, who makes a point that we should stop treating websites different from web apps.

In the Bay Area there’s this very clear distinction folks make between “websites” and “web apps”. Somehow, the thinking goes, if we make a web app then we don’t need to care about accessibility or responsive design. We don’t need to care about all the work that goes into making a typical website great; semantic HTML, fast performance, responsive design.

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Anyway, when building web apps I keep hearing that we don’t need to care about responsive design or accessibility and it troubles me. It’s like saying the “mobile web”, it’s an excuse to be lazy. The thinking goes in most companies that “we don’t need to care about responsive design because we’ll just build an app” but really I hear that as just another excuse to do a bad job, too.

I agree that web apps need to play by the same rules as website. However, I draw a different line: between building for the web and building on the web. Of course there’s some gray area in between, but I’ve had a lot more success with this idea over “websites” vs. “web apps”, which is near impossible to define.

When you build a piece of public property, you’re building for the web. It’s your responsibility as a developer to be a good neighbour for each other, and keep the web accessible, fast, and responsive. This counts as much for small blogs, large news sites, social media, and listings on Airbnb.

On the other hand, you might be using the web as an implementation detail to solve a business problem. If you’re building a private tool for a company to manage itself, deciding how far you go with accessibility and performance is a business decision. While we’ll often push for these virtues as professionals, it’s up to the client to decide how they want to build their property.