Chat Feature Dilemma: Why Building is Not Always a Better Idea

In recent years, chat applications have shown significant growth and even surpassed social networks in terms of gaining active users. According to Business Insider Intelligence data, the number of combined users of the top four chat apps are larger than that of the top four social networks.

In Indonesia alone, according to a research by Dream Incubator, 97% out of 1400 respondents use more than one chat applications on their smartphones. Users are no longer interested in spending their money on SMSes, which are relatively much more expensive, considering that chatting and sending photos are the two most frequent activities carried out by users.

According to another research by the American Marketing Association, customers who use live chats are 3 times more likely to make purchases. By using chat features in applications, it is possible to get 305% ROI from sales chat with a payback period of 6 months. Live chat also improves customer satisfaction levels, a promising way to drive customer loyalty.

Build vs Buy: Where the Dilemma Starts

The importance of chat functionality in applications should be quite obvious at this point. Thus, the next logical step for businesses is to make sure that they include a chat feature in their apps. This is where businesses tend to get lost. Sometimes, the companies end up overestimating their capabilities to build the chat feature themselves.

Here are some recommended  features that should be available in your applications:

  1. Support for different data formats. In order to improve your engagement with your users, reaching through text is never going to be enough. There are many ways you can engage with your users that may include pictures, videos, voice and even a photo editor that will entertain your users and make them come back to your app for more. Thus, it is necessary for your chat feature to support various data formats.
  2. Chat. It is pretty obvious chatting is not just a one-to-one activity since many people love to form group chats for work or leisure. The demand for security and self-destructive messages are also important in chat features. Making end-to-end encryption and scheduled chat available can offer assurance for safety and convenience to users.
  3. Voice and Video Calls. Some users prefer to talk directly to save time and avoid confusion. Other people may prefer to call due to distance. This will help people to save money, time and energy by being able to do conference calling instead of traveling.
  4. Organizers. For more intimate or even formal settings, events and meetings are essential. Combining your app with calendar or reminders will help users so they don’t have to open additional applications and be more efficient in their work.

Also read: “In-App Chat: Redesigning the Banking Experience” 

With all of these requirements, to make sure that you can meet your customers’ expectations, here is a range of technology that you need to consider to build top chat features:

  • Server operation: Dedicated, IaaS (AWS, Azure, GCE), PaaS (Heroku, GAE)
  • Traffic handling: Load Balancing, Auto Scaling, Latency-based DNS routing
  • Database: No SQL (HBase, Cassandra, MongoDB), RDB (MySQL, Postgres)
  • File storage: Cloud storage, CDN
  • Cache: Redis, Memcached
  • Chat server: Proprietary, Open source, Commercial solution
  • Network layer: WebSocket, HTTP long-polling, TCP socket
  • Messaging protocol: Proprietary, XMPP, MQTT
  • Client platform: iOS, Android, Web (JavaScript), .NET, React Native, Ionic
  • Required level of encryption due to security policy and internal compliance
  • Etc: Logging, Monitoring, Analytics


Building it yourself may seem like a good idea, but if you pay attention to the whole process and the problems you may encounter during the building process, we urge you to think again. It takes a total 1770 to 2460 hours and around USD $35,400-$370,000 to develop a chat application like WhatsApp. If you have enough talented people and money to develop chat apps, we understand if you would want to build it yourself. But most businesses, especially startups, don’t have such luxury.

It is even more pressing if your core idea is not actually in the chat apps. Why spend so much time on this additional feature when you have bigger problems to tackle? You need to concentrate your main app feature to perform as best as possible and building a chat feature from scratch takes away precious time from developing the main feature. Remember, you still have to think about maintenance and more additional features. This is where buying may more likely to be the most logical step.

Buying Benefits

While the cost to purchase a chat feature may concern you. Many services tend to provide a free software development kit (SDK) to try. Qiscus is one of the best third party solutions in the Southeast Asian market who can provide the best chat engine for your startup. Qiscus has an SDK product that can be used freely for up to 1000 active users per month here.  

Once you decide that you want to buy a chat feature, it’s our job to set up and maintain the features. Drop us a note at or [email protected] and we will be ready to serve you in no time.

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