No, Your Application Does NOT Need to Look Like a Website

With all the innate advantages of the web, it’s hard not to subscribe to the “let’s make everything look like a website.” But for some applications it doesn’t make sense. A perfect example: transaction-based processes.

browser-based application — popular but flawed

My boss at CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) mentioned this to me and I felt like an idiot having not really thought about this issue at all, i.e. some things that are done over the web (well, over web browsers) shouldn’t be (because browsers have a lot of limitations). Transactional processes are an amazing example because it’s so error-prone to unstable states (), poor navigation (can’t use that back button), data loss (can’t save the data as it’s entered) that it can get really annoying.

Now at DIRECTV it’s the same – customer acquisition flows are so prone to error and confusion because of the nature of browser-based transactions. We’re trying to fit more and more onto browsers that they just aren’t able to handle. Revised protocols (e.g. HTML5) may attempt to deal with some of these issues, but application-level work can’t really be run in a real-time browser, and people shun the downloading of anything in this virus-prone, time-sensitive online world. Do Flash/Silverlight fill this gap by providing pseudo web applications? To some extent yes. But why then are there no Flash-based transactional websites?

People are lazy. They want to buy their shit and they want to buy it now. They don’t want to wait for anything to load or download and they don’t want any errors.  AND they want it to be wrapped in a sexy package. BUT that doesn’t mean that every foreseeable thing on a computer has to look like a website, based on the sole fact that websites are so immensely popular. Other interfaces work too – and work better. Transactional applications are an example of that.