Chapter 1


An informal survey from February 20111 highlighted a variety of reasons why people build web apps, from the lure of financial riches to the hope of improving the world. Whatever your personal motivation and goals, this book will give you the practical, tested, realistic advice necessary to achieve them.


You’ll find processes, statistics and resources that you can use for the entire lifecycle of your app, from developing the seed of an idea to post-launch promotion. Rather than getting bogged down with unnecessary detail and opinion disguised as best practice, this book concentrates on the critical points of each topic to ensure a well-rounded app that’s equipped for even the most demanding users.

What’s covered in this book

This opening chapter sets the stage for your project, with an overview of the current state of the web and who’s doing what online. The remainder of the Groundwork section guides you through the preparatory stage of your project: what you need to know, do and expect before you dive in.

The Strategy of your app is developed in the second section. A user-centered design approach and early consideration of business models will give your app an advantage over ill-considered competitors, and will set the foundations for long-term viability.

In the third section, your strategy will inform the Interface of the app, helping you create a usable, beautiful user interface that behaves as your customers expect.

The subsequent Development section doesn’t discuss programming code in detail, as this broad topic is comprehensively covered in numerous existing books and online resources. Instead, the complexities, considerations, tools and best practice methodologies of technical web development are explained, together with the performance, security and quality of the app.

Once you’ve developed the first working version of your web app, the Promotion section puts a plan in place to acquire those important first customers, using traditional and modern marketing techniques.

The web app landscape

A web application or web app is a web-based tool specifically designed to help a person perform a task

The web has transformed our daily lives. From mundane grocery purchases and birthday party invitations, to potentially life-changing stock trades and eco-activist grassroots organisation, there are now quicker, cheaper and easier ways to manage our lives online, through web applications.

As connection speeds improve and the web’s pervasiveness is further entrenched, we have become increasingly reliant on web apps, and their monetary and cultural value have grown accordingly.

Billions of dollars are spent on commercial acquisitions every year. In 2010, some 62 web start-ups sold for a total of $4.1 billion2, with many individual purchases fetching $100 million or more3.

In the first quarter of 2010, over eight million new .com and .net domain names were registered4, many of them in the hope of becoming the next multimillion dollar app. At this rate, about five new .com and .net domain names will have been registered since you started to read this sentence.

What makes these applications so valuable?

The market

As of May 2010, almost eighty per cent of the US population uses the web: that’s over a quarter of a billion potential customers in one country alone5. Of these, three-quarters buy products through the web and a quarter pays for digital content and downloads6. This resulted in $36 billion of e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2010, representing almost four per cent of the total retail sales for the country7.

The web reaches 28% of the global population (almost two billion people) and it’s increasing by about the size of the US online population every year8. Not only is the current online market larger and more easily reached than any before, future growth will be considerable and as good as inevitable.

The opportunities are vast, and you can build, register and host your app (making it available to almost all of these people) for less than the cost of watching a movie in the cinema every month.

The good news: most apps fail

With substantial potential payouts and negligible start-up costs, it’s no wonder that so many try their luck. Every week, a steady stream of entrepreneurs pitch their new web app, describe its features and tell you why their application will be The Next Big Thing.

The odds are that most of these apps will fail. Even if you look at the most promising apps each year – take the Techcrunch 509 of any given year, for example – it’s unlikely that the majority will turn a profit, be acquired or survive more than a few years. If these were physical businesses that opened on your main street, you’d live in a perpetual ghost town. But that’s okay.

Actually, it’s better than okay: it’s good for your app. Web apps fail for a number of reasons; creating a genuinely successful application is a delicate balancing act. Get one aspect wrong – an interface that confuses your users, an over-optimistic pricing structure, slow performance code or an ineffective marketing tactic – and your app may struggle to make an impact.

Get all of them right and your app will immediately stand out from the crowd.

Actually, just do it

’Get all of them right’ isn’t what I should have written. ’Get all of them good enough’ is better advice.

Ernest Hemmingway is reported to have said, ’Write drunk; edit sober.’ I won’t suggest that you follow his recommendation literally, but the essence of the quote is of the utmost significance. This book covers a large amount of best practice and theory, but nothing is more important than making a start on your app – don’t spend time worrying about perfecting every detail. You can worry about details later, after you’ve proven the basic need for your app.

I’m not suggesting that you throw this book away and begin app development without knowing what you’re doing. This book will give you essential insights into the fundamental factors that influence web app success. But apply this knowledge judiciously, not prescriptively.

With that said, let’s get stuck in.

Web App Success book coverAlso available to buy in a beautiful limited edition paperback and eBook.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.