At one time every website feature was built from scratch. Even the programming languages used were in their infancy and required more effort to fulfill basic requirements.
Today, we have an overwhelming amount of tools, frameworks and APIs to leverage. We can create feature rich websites and online application in less time and lower costs.
I’m referring to “third party technology,” which described simply are solutions created by and maintained by someone other than yourself. If you’re still confused, consider the following features you could add to your website:
- Social sharing buttons
- An interactive map
- A content management system
These are all examples of features that could be built from scratch or added to your website using an existing solution, created by a third party.
Interactive maps are commonly added to website using the Google Maps API (API is an acronym for application programing interface.) This reduces the amount of time required from hundreds of hours to one (or less.)
There are pro’s and cons to using existing solutions however. Let’s discuss.
Benefits of Using Third Party Technologies
The most obvious benefits of using a third party technology is a reduction in time, complexity and cost.
Consider our example above regarding an interactive map. Building an interactive map with a sliver of the capabilities of Google Maps would take hundreds– if not thousands– of hours to develop. If you need something simple like a store locator, or a map to your office, this would not be a worthwhile investment.
By leveraging the Google Maps technology it might take tens of hours instead of hundreds. Less time means lower costs.
There is an added benefit of outsourcing maintenance of the functionality. All technology needs to be maintained long term. As the web evolves, custom code needs to be updated as well.
Consider the interactive maps from the early 2000’s. They were not interactive at all. Rather, static snapshots of a map which required a page refresh with every click. Innovative at the time, but an antiquated experience today.
In theory, a third party technology will be updated and maintained long term– and not by you.
Simply put, third party technology allows you to do more with smaller investments. Sounds pretty good right? Well there are some caveats you should be aware of.
Caveats of Third Party Technology
I’ll start by prefacing that at 3.7 Designs we frequently use third party technology. Most projects use an existing content management platform (WordPress.) We use development tools created and maintained by other parties to improve our quality and speed. We often integrate with external services to meet client business requirements. However, we’re always cautious about using a third party technology. Why?
There are risks and limitations.
Given that we didn’t build the technology ourselves, we cab never fully understand the capabilities and limitations. Even when we’re using a technology we’ve used for over ten years like WordPress. Inevitably there will be situations where we stop and wonder “Can we actually do this?”
Lots of technologies are so complex that the capabilities are not fully documented. The only way to know what’s possible is to try and make it happen.
As indicated earlier, when you use third party technology you differ the responsibility and maintenance to an external party. While this should means fewer worries regarding upkeep, there is no guarantee it will be maintained long term. Projects get frequently get abandoned leaving you with the difficult decision of waiting to see if anyone takes over, continuing to use the technology until it breaks, or finding a suitable alternative.
In a similar vane, sometimes projects receive significant changes. These changes could prevent you from using the technology moving forward. Changes are not always related to how the technology works. Google Maps has been a long-standing free service, until recently. Now you have to pay to display a Google Map on your website, an ongoing expense you haven’t planned for.
When teams are building technology they do their best to accommodate different situations, needs and contexts that could be required. However, it’s impossible to create a single solution that will work for all situations.
There’s a likely possibility that the specific way you need the technology to behave isn’t supported. This likelihood is amplified when you layer on additional third party technologies.
If you have strict requirements for a particular feature works, you might have to choose from several imperfect situations or develop the feature from scratch.
This article is not intended to scare you away from third party technology. We use third party technology in almost all of our projects. Be aware of the implications, risks and limitations. You could save thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you might have to make compromises as well.