Build vs. Buy: What Product Managers Must Consider Before Developing Activity Feeds

7 min read

Activity feeds, also called news feeds, are in-app forums where users can post, like, comment, and interact with each other.

Emily R.
Emily R.
Published February 15, 2022 Updated March 8, 2022
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When successfully integrated, you can leverage your activity feed to increase your app’s user engagement and retention rates while lowering customer acquisition costs (CAC).

But before you can enjoy a performance boost, you must first decide whether to build your activity feed solution in-house or buy one from a third-party vendor. Both routes have their advantages, but which is right for your project?

While cost is an important deciding factor, you should also consider how your two options will impact your activity feed's scalability, maintenance, reliability, and long-term performance. Read on to better understand how these elements will come into play so you can make an informed decision whether you choose to build or buy an activity feed API.

The Top 5 Benefits of Activity Feeds

Before beginning your build vs. buy evaluation for an activity feed solution, it’s important to first understand the benefits of including an activity feed in your app. CodePen leveraged news feeds to power a social development experience within their app, but you might be more interested in the data activity feeds can collect. Regardless of your app’s industry or target market, the five benefits below are universal truths of having a news feed in your application:

  • Easy Access to User Feedback: The activity feed is a forum to interact with your app users regularly. Collecting first-hand feedback allows you to understand how they use the app and what they like and don’t and develop ideas for improvement.

  • Streamlined Customer Support: While gathering feedback from your users, you’re likely to encounter complaints. Activity feeds enable you to resolve the issue quickly on a 1:1 level, preventing users from expressing their frustration on social media or other public channels.

  • Effortless Announcement Broadcast: While a post on social might not reach each of your app users, an announcement in an activity feed will. Activity feeds enable you to update users on new features, initiatives, and more instantly.

  • Stronger Communities: The activity feed's collective flow of information and opinion naturally builds community. If users can easily interact with like-minded people, your app will see engagement and retention rates rise.

  • Impressive User Experience: An intuitive user experience (UX) is essential to your activity feed. The ease of use will keep your users in your app longer. By delivering an impressive UX, your app will enjoy higher user satisfaction rates along with lowered CAC.

The Multiple Meanings of “Cost”

Your decision to build or buy any type of app functionality might ultimately come down to cost. But, we think it’s a better place for your evaluation to start since the definition of “cost” encompasses more than financial details of your app’s development — it also includes opportunity cost.

What is Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost is the loss of any potential gain from one option by choosing another. Let’s apply this logic to our build vs. buy dilemma. Hypothetically, by choosing to build activity feeds in-house, total customization and ownership over your solution comes at an opportunity cost of your expensive and finite development resources. Whereas buying a solution would free up your engineer’s time to build features to differentiate your app from competitors, but come with an equal opportunity cost.

Allocate Your Resources Wisely

As you weigh the potential opportunity cost of your decision, take stock of the features of your app that will require in-house development. Your team's size, level of technical expertise, and the number of projects in their queue are powerful indicators — they can determine whether or not building an activity feed from scratch is an efficient use of resources. Also, keep in mind that the buck doesn’t stop there. Taking your news feeds in-house means that your team is perpetually responsible for monitoring, maintaining, and upgrading your solution, too.

In the case of buying an activity feeds solution, resource allocation becomes simpler and pricing more predictable. While it might not serve as a learning opportunity for your development team, it will allow them to spend more time refining other areas of your app. Leveraging a white-labeled API or SDK to support your activity feed will still allow for a level of customization comparable to an in-house solution. It enables your team to bypass foundational framework set up and skip straight to nailing the front and back-end integrations, thinking about personalization, and creating support systems.

Financial Cost

Forecasting the total financial cost of both scenarios before deciding whether to build or buy a news feed solution seems obvious. There are certain elements that all teams must account for, like upfront costs and unexpected expenses. But, every app is different. While some prefer the predictability of a monthly SaaS subscription payment, others are flush with capital and confidently believe that investing in themselves upfront will result in their development costs leveling out over time.

Calculating the Cost to Develop, Maintain, & Scale Activity Feeds In-House

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Calculating the cost to develop, maintain, and scale your activity feeds in-house can become quite a complex operation. You’ll need to consider variables like developer salary, location, experience level, and the desired feature depth of your activity feed. More unpredictable variables include customer feedback on features that will need to be altered or upgraded, usage growth, fluctuating infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) costs, and additional tech tools your team will require subscriptions to in response to the changing landscape of remote work.

Calculating the Cost of Buying an Activity Feeds Solution

Like calculating the in-house expense of activity feeds, working with a third-party vendor comes with its share of both expected and unexpected costs. While there might not be a large, upfront barrier to entry, there is a greater chance of experiencing overage fees and upsells with a SaaS product.

However, activity feed APIs and SDKs can significantly reduce the cost of implementation, time spent on maintenance, and the complexity of creating a feature-rich interface app users will love — especially if the activity feed provider also has a UI kit to accelerate the design process.. These benefits combined result in a faster time to market for your app, which can be an invaluable competitive advantage. So, again, the concept of opportunity cost comes into play.

The Importance of Security

Whether building or buying your news feeds solution, your app user’s data security should be top of mind. The amount and type of risk associated with the two development methods can vary, so product managers should assess what level of risk is acceptable for their app, especially if leaning towards working with a vendor.

Though it can require a leap of faith to trust a third-party vendor, building and maintaining adequate security in-house can also be costly and labor-intensive. When evaluating a vendor, critical areas for review include data compliance and storage policy, decision ownership, vendor lock-in, and overall reliability, performance, and scalability. Look for vendors that comply with SOC 2, GDPR, and ISO 27001 guidelines.

The Impact of Scalability on Your App’s Performance

You’ll want to build activity feeds infrastructure that can scale worldwide, regardless of load, without going down and impacting app performance or usability. To do this in-house, you’ll need to focus your efforts on sound development and relentless maintenance to avoid a massive rebuild of core components. Not only does this require a high level of technical expertise, but additional time and budget to accommodate any roadblocks. While a basic activity feed with just a few users is straightforward to build, activity feeds become exponentially more complex with more users, as these users will expect to interact with each activity in the feed in a particular way, such as reactions, likes, and pins. There are also additional design considerations to take into account with more users, such as enabling retweets.

When evaluating a ready-made news feed solution, opt for one with a reliable infrastructure that can scale alongside your app. There will still be maintenance to uphold, but you will have the support of the vendor and robust documentation to help you smooth over any points of friction that appear within your app as you scale.

Account for Cross-Platform Development

As your app scales, you should consider expanding your reach across multiple platforms. Your app's activity feeds will need to function similarly across iOS, Android, web, and even desktop native platforms. Even if your in-house development team successfully builds a feeds experience for the initial platform, they might not have the technical knowledge to expand to others. A third-party vendor can assist in this case and provide the necessary infrastructure and support for your activity feeds to perform flawlessly across all platforms.

Are You Ready to Make Your Decision?

Building an in-house activity feed will require a hefty upfront investment that your team can only hope will level set over time. Leveraging SaaS to create a fully functional activity feed will mean a smaller investment of both time and money from you — allowing your team to focus on gaining a competitive advantage through developing other special features and launching faster.

Aside from the cost, scalability is the second most critical factor in making your decision. An in-house news feed build might seem like the right route if your team has sufficient development and financial resources. But growth and scalability are often as underestimated as they are unpredictable. Partnering with a third-party vendor from the start can ensure that your app’s activity feeds are supported by a reliable, scalable infrastructure that can adapt to the evolving needs of your users.

There’s no question that the benefits of including an intuitive, engaging, and personalized news feed experience benefit your users along with your app’s performance. Now that you have reviewed all of the critical factors one should consider before answering the question of build vs. buy, you are ready to decide which option is suitable for your project.

Sign up for your free trial to try building with the Stream Activity Feeds API today.

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