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Build versus buy: One company's decision to go it alone

You might be familiar with deviantART as that place you go to find awesome wallpapers or Team Fortress 2 fan art. It is, primarily, a community for artists and creative types—people who like to draw and paint and sketch. But in early 2010, the site's developers wanted to try something new.

It dawned on company CEO Angelo Sotira that there should be a way for the community to create and publish new art directly on the site, with nothing more than a modern browser. The question, however, was to build or buy?

In other words, Devious Technology—the team responsible for all of deviantART's design and development work—could either develop the technology for a web-based drawing application themselves, or license or buy a piece of pre-existing software from someone else.

Sotira's situation was not uncommon. Even here at Ars, we often bemoan the lack of a good story scheduling tool, and wonder if it's worth building our own. In the end, deviantART launched its web-based drawing tool, called deviantART muro, in late 2010—and it was designed and developed entirely in-house. But it wasn't an easy decision to make.

"Whenever you're doing a buy versus build analysis, you typically want to buy," Sotira told Ars. After all, in many cases, you're not just getting the product, but the team responsible for its development too. "What you get is an expert," he continued, "and somebody that has some pattern recognition in the product, so that they know what's good and what's bad."

Initially, this was the route Sotira considered taking. The team investigated numerous other web-based drawing tools, but none of them quite seemed to fit with what deviantART had in mind. For example, they found most of the tools available at the time were built in Flash, which was slow and ill-suited for pen-based input. Rather, "HTML5 had become this label for cutting edge stuff," said Simon Murray, Devious Technology's director of product management, and the development team wanted to use that instead.

"It wouldn't be fair for me to say we didn't go out and further analyze the market—we did," continued Sotira. "We went and looked at all the drawing software that existed when we actually thought about building muro, when muro started to evolve."

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