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Web Apps you should NOT be developing from scratch

October 14th, 2009 No comments

I’m going to start with an analogy: Building some web applications (listed below) is like building a dresser yourself.

Let’s say you want a new dresser in your room. After thinking about it for a while, you decide to build it yourself because only you know what you want, but not only that, you have specific needs no one has had before. So you take the measurements and head to a hardware store. First of all you have to buy the tools, then some wood, steel or maybe plastic. For the drawers’ guide rails you notice that commercial versions are not to your specifications, so you end up trimming them to your own needs.

After a week or two of hard work and several trips back to the hardware store due to miscalculations, you are finally done. But the dresser is assembled in your garage, not in your room, so you have to move it up the stairs and have to call a friend for help because it’s really heavy.

Assuming everything went well and you didn’t hurt your back pushing this thing up, you finally have a new dresser, with some rough edges but it’s built to meet your needs. But you are not that happy because you just realized you can only put two and a half rows of clothes instead of three, that the guide rails get stuck really often because you trimmed them and that the whole structure is a little bit wobbly. Then you call a carpenter… who will recommend to build a new one himself.

I can continue the analogy, but I think you got it. After all you just spent more time, resources and money on a problem someone else already spent a great deal of time solving and making sure the solution is optimal.

What if you try a regular/commercial/popular dresser, at least if you don’t like it you can return it, or make small changes to make it work the way you want to.

Here is the list of the ones I hear more often:

  • E-commerce sites: usually what a entrepreneur with new products need. Plenty of options, from free to hosted with all payment options and even inventory and shipping integration.
  • Blog: the most popular. Great tools out there, with great plug-ins if you need extra features.
  • Online video players: do you want a playlist? Maybe votes? Different sizes, combinations, search engine friendly? It’s all there.
  • Online audio players: pretty much the same as video players
  • Social networking and group pages: do you want them private or public? Professional looking maybe?
  • Affiliate programs: this is a big one. If you want to run your adds, manage advertisers and channels, and distribute revenue, you can do it. Can be as cheap as 30 bucks.
  • Photo albums: again… what can you think of that nobody had the idea before?? Scrolling images? Fades? 3D? sort by date, size, keyword?
  • Wikis: What I’ve found here is that people don’t know the name of it. Usually they describe it as: [I need] a way to have a document that several people modify constantly at different locations, and I want also keep track of the changes. Basic wikis do this, and more…
  • Newsletter systems: what do you need? Tracking? Ease of use? Ability to manage your contact list? Design? Avoid being marked as spam? You got it!
  • CRM and sales software: free, hosted, open source, you name it.
  • Content management Systems: This one is a little tricky, because you can use a blog, a group page. Depends on your needs.

Let me know if you know other applications that should be on this list, or tell me about your personal story.