I’m sure you already know a few of the things a good business website should do: it should clearly explain the product or service you’re selling. Offer examples of past work. And of course, provide an easy way for people to get in touch.

But your website can do so much more than that. Advances in programming mean we can create custom web applications that not only accomplish your business goals, but also add value for visitors so that they keep coming back.

Web applications are essentially software that’s rendered to users through Internet browsers, instead of having to be installed on a user’s computer. Advanced web apps you’ve probably used before include things like fantasy football interfaces, video viewer sites like Netflix, or any kind of webmail.

The possibilities for web apps are endless. The type of app that might be useful for you really depends on your business and your customers’ needs. For example, if your customers frequently need help troubleshooting your product, you could add a chat feature to speak with them in real time. If you’re a contractor, you could create a form for generating project estimates. If you run a restaurant, you could create an interactive calendar with upcoming events and specials. If you work in financial services, you could dream up an innovative budgeting tool.

The Atomic team builds all of our websites and web apps using a “LAMP” technology stack (that’s Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP for the uninitiated). And we can design apps to be responsive along with the rest of a website, rendering them usable and beautiful on any screen size.

We even built a web app for ourselves—a custom application for creating site maps. We initially created the app for our internal use as a way to help our designers easily organize information for new sites and communicate our vision to clients. The idea took off, and the software has become its own business, generating revenue and helping firms everywhere design sites more efficiently.

I’m not saying your site’s apps need to go viral. And apps shouldn’t compete with the main purpose of your site. But there’s huge potential in creating something that simplifies peoples’ lives. Give some thought to your own business. Chances are, there’s some common process that could use improving. There may already be an app to address it. And if there’s not, why not create one? High-quality apps can lead to increased site traffic—and could even mean a new revenue stream.

Atomic can help you figure out what web software might work for your business. Your customers are sure to app-rove.

Want a site that makes visitors “ooh” and “aah”? Enlist Atomic Interactive for web design magic.

So you probably heard that Slickplan, our web app for sitemapping, was selected as a finalist in this year’s AppItOut competition.

The contest was held at Future Insights Live, a massive 5-day conference for web developers held in Las Vegas.

The contest pitted three web apps against each other in a head-to-head competition before a live audience. Lights, cameras, presentations, clapping, cheering … for a few minutes, on a Tuesday afternoon, Ian and I felt like we were on American Idol.

We even got grilled by the judges, Simon Cowell–style, and had to defend our app’s design and functionality.

It was a crazy and amazing experience. Not only did we have the honor of being voted into the competition by real users, we had the privilege of introducing Slickplan to a ton of our colleagues in a huge public forum.

We also got to meet lots of Slickplan users, many of whom thanked us for creating the app and told us how much they enjoy using it every day.

And after the competition, we got to enjoy the conference itself. We got to meet and learn from amazing industry leaders like Bulat Shakirzyanov from Twilio and Devrim Yasar from Koding. And superstar entrepreneurs like Jason Calacanis from Mahalo.

Oh — what’s that you say? Did we win the competition? No, we didn’t.

That honor went to Tracky, a social collaboration app.

But the recognition from our peers — the great feedback from our users — and the chance to learn so much in such a short time — made us feel like big winners nonetheless.

So thanks to all the fans who voted Slickplan into this year’s AppItOut competition, and gave us such a wonderful opportunity. We’re sending big love right back atcha.

Application development is a hot field. The explosion in mobile devices has turned a monolithic process dominated by a few big players into something everyone seems to be doing.

And you could do it too, right?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Even if you’re a crackerjack website developer, your skills – and tolerance for frustration – won’t necessarily translate into app development. There are a few things that make this process distinctive, and not a good fit for everyone.

  • Complexity. Even a simple app has multiple components, and each one has to interact with the other smoothly and successfully. That makes the development process taxing. You need to be able to keep a lot of information running in your brain simultaneously, and be able to see how changes in a small part of your app might have a big affect on other areas. It’s kind of like playing a game of chess nonstop for weeks on end. You can never really relax while it’s going on, lest you forget something critical.
  • Coding time. Think of a seemingly simple application – Slickplan, for example. Guess how many screens you’d have to code for that site. Now multiply that by 10. If you’re interested in app development, you need to be ready for a massive amount of work, even for very streamlined sites. The number of PSDs I have to build for a single app always surprises me, even though I should know better by now.
  • Awareness. You also can’t get caught up in your own development process and block out the rest of the world. Chances are, the success of your app will depend heavily on how well it reflects current usability standards and the way that other, even dissimilar apps are being designed. So you can’t ever stick your head in the sand. You have to know how your users expect their screen to behave. And what they expect today is likely very different from what they expected six months ago.
  • A never-ending story. You may be used to designing websites and purging them from your brain the day they go live. It doesn’t work that way with apps. Instead, expect a never-ending process of debugging and incremental improvement. And don’t be surprised when your users come back at you with an insane number of ideas and suggestions – everything from basic stuff you can’t believe you missed, to sophisticated ideas that knock your socks off.

You can get frustrated with that, or you can sit back and realize how amazing it is that your users care enough to click that little “feedback” button and tell you what they think. If you think you can do the latter – and do it with a smile on your face – you just might be ready for the world of application development.

What if you developed a website based on a content management system optimized for one or two browsers? And then found out that your client is using neither — and can’t access your system or tools?

Say “buh-bye” to your new business.

Or, what if you sign a contract with a new online vendor for a key business process — accounting, for instance — only to find out that the application runs on an outmoded browser, forcing your entire team to ditch their upgrade or run two different versions of the same browser, one to work with the application, and one for everything else?

Say “buh-bye” to your sanity.

The new choice in browsers — with Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Google Chrome challenging the still-dominant Internet Explorer (IE) — is forcing us to change the way we think about and choose browsers.

A central question in evaluating Web browsers is this: What, exactly, does your business — or your customers — do online?

Do you rely on Web-based applications for many of your business processes? If so, picking a compatible browser is vital — as is making sure it remains so even as new versions of the application are released.

Many Web-based applications will run on almost all browsers, but exceptions abound. Constant Contact, the well-known Web-based email marketing tool, supports some browsers but not others (one of its rivals, Vertical Response, also works best in Firefox or IE). As eWEEK recently noted, other applications will run on most browsers, but may not perform optimally in each.

If you are developing online products or experiences for your customers, are you assuming everyone will gain access using the same browser? If so, you might be making a big — and costly — mistake. More and more people are attracted to different browsers for different reasons, so taking the time to find out where they are — um, browser-wise — might go a long way to establishing good customer relations and generating repeat business.

A single solution for picking the best browser probably eludes us, but here are a few tips:

  1. Evaluate what you’re doing most online to make sure your choice of browser won’t conflict with your online applications, slow you down, crash your systems, or frustrate your staff.
  2. Investigate and test browsers to see which one — or which mix of two or more — works best for certain tasks.
  3. Read all the different reviews, stay up on the latest evaluations, and know the impact of any upgrade on either application or browser performance.
  4. Learn what your customers are doing online and don’t make assumptions.
  5. Choose vendors and developers that understand browser technology, features, compatibility, customization, and performance and can match you with a system that meets your needs.

Do browsers still bewilder you? Contact us for more insights.