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Tiny puts a price tag on building your own core rich text editor

Published November 16th, 2021

For Globex, it’s $15,368,729. For Wolfram & Hart, it’s $29,425,179. For Montgomery Burns, it’s $22,314,689, and for Baxter Stockman, $19,893,421. That's what they paid to build their own core rich text editors.

Di Mace

Communications Specialist at Tiny


These companies* are among the thousands of enterprises who’ve endeavoured to build their own Rich Text Editor (RTE). The project was outside their development team’s core specialization, but in each case, control of the development process was deemed of greater importance than the agility offered by buying and assembling specialist components for their tech stack.

As a result, every one of them encountered the same maze of roadblocks, delays, cost blow-outs, and scope creep that happens with every rich text editor project build.

“It cost too much,” Sid Phillips, the CEO from Wolfram & Hart said. He didn’t even get the advanced features (over and above a core editing experience) that his growing SaaS company needed to compete in his market. When he was told the staggering sum, “It’s like we’ve poured money into a black box. And there’s still more going into it, than the results coming out the other end. We can’t keep doing this.”

How did they get that price tag?

Companies are under pressure. Digital transformation is driving rapid-fire change and neither their budgets, nor developer resources, are elastic. But despite that, enterprises still persist in building their own... monolithic everything.


According to a 2020 McKinsey report, “With technology powering everything from how a business runs to the products and services it sells, companies in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing to banking are having to develop a range of new skill sets and capabilities. In addition to mastering the nuances of their industry, they need to excel first and foremost at developing software.”

THE HARVARD BR

The Harvard Business Review examined 1,471 projects and reported that one in six IT projects had an average cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of almost 70%.

*Company and personal details are fictional, but indicative of the costs and time taken to build a functioning rich text editor.

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Buy vs Build White Paper

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Rich text editors are hard to build

Rich text editors are one of the highest-risk areas for both cost and development time overruns. Feature and system complexities are notoriously underestimated, iterative bugs demand constant attention, and the growth of remote working is forcing rapid and constant evolution.

A development team who’s inexperienced in developing RTEs generally underestimates the myriad of edge cases, across both browsers and functionality. Even things that are perceived to be basic, are hard.

Core components of a rich text editor

The no-frills core components of a basic (minimum expectations) rich text editor are:

  • Contenteditable
  • Basic formatting
  • HTML compliance
  • Colors
  • Undo
  • Focus
  • Selection
  • Loading content
  • Input filtering
  • Exporting content (output)
  • Output filtering
  • Browser differences

Additional feature requests:

  • Links
  • Embeds
  • Lists
  • Tables
  • Images
  • Uploading
  • Advanced formatting
  • Emoji

Enterprise grade features:

  • Automated testing
  • Human testing
  • Localization
  • Security
  • Spell checking
  • Performance

UI interactions needed:

  • UI general
  • UI toolbar
  • UI buttons
  • UI menu
  • UI context menu
  • UI dialogs
  • Accessibility
  • Touch devices (mobile/tablets)
  • Advanced keyboard interaction

Look and feel considerations:

  • Content editing
  • Content published
  • Skins and customizations
  • Configuration

Building a rich text editor is far beyond what most developers initially consider, which is why most rich text editor specialists, like Tiny, have large, dedicated teams of developers – all with deep domain knowledge – working on them year-round.

In addition, a trusted editor requires constant ongoing maintenance and extensibility work – to keep up with browsers, changing technologies and how the content is best displayed to its ultimate audience, the reader.

When is the cost of ownership too high?

The challenge to definitively know the time, effort and costs involved in building an enterprise grade rich text editor, is enormous. Especially when the software requires deep domain knowledge, and is as specialized and complex as building, maintaining and extending one that’s keeping pace with changes in technology.

However, some indicators are readily available.

Core Rich Text Editor – Build Cost Estimate

To build just the basic open source components of three leading rich text editors (excluding advanced features and plugins) Open Hub estimates it as:


OPEN SOURCE CODEESTIMATED EFFORTESTIMATED BUILD COST*
TinyMCE71 person-years$ 9,411,855*
CKEditor128 person-years$ 29,613,955*
Summernote11 person-years$ 1,399,165*

* Using the Basic COCOMO Model (Accessed 24 Aug 2021)

It should be noted the above costs exclude the additional costs of Senior Product Manager support (prior to the discovery/inception phases and also throughout the project) as well as Senior Product Designer support, during the development of a rich text editor.

That said, it doesn’t just start-and-end there. For an enterprise grade rich text editor, more advanced features, such as PowerPaste functionality, are also required.

Build Cost Estimate

71 person-years


$ 9,411,855

What's the total cost of ownership of a rich text editor?

To be a valid review, all costs need to be included. So, it's critical to thoroughly understand the total cost of ownership (TCO) incurred throughout the software lifecycle – typically seven or eight years.

On top of the initial core rich text cost estimates above, there’s the additional cost of developing anything beyond that ‘core basics’ list.

Advanced feature development costs

The development of a single much-desired advanced rich text editor feature – that helps users cleanly copy-and-paste content – carries with it additional engineering requirements over and above the core editor costs.

infoworld

In an Infoworld article, Mark Lutchen, former global CIO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, cites this step as being vitally important, “because 70% of software costs occur after implementation. A rigorous lifecycle analysis that realistically estimates ongoing maintenance by in-house developers often tips the balance in favor of buying.”


Single advanced feature development
cost estimate

Build Cost Estimate: Copy-paste capability

DEVELOPMENT COST

$1,178,921


8.9 years using one developer

DEVELOPMENT COST

$1,178,921


16.2 months, using eight developers

Maintenance and Extensibility Cost Estimate:
Copy-paste capability

SINGLE ADVANCED FEATURE ONGOING MAINTENANCE COST ESTIMATE

$22,034 yearly


for a single features, ongoing

SINGLE ADVANCED FEATURE LONG-TERM EXTENSIBILITY COST ESTIMATE

$66,102 biannually


for a single feature, ongoing

As this shows, the typical cost of building, maintaining and extending a single, more advanced feature of a rich text editor, isn’t small.

An in-house build approach may deliver customisations. And control. But for rich text editors, it definitely adds greater uncertainty into a TCO equation that’s already fraught with technical complexities and unknowns – because rich text editors are in a constant state of flux and evolution.

An alternative approach that assembles rich text editors

Assembling reusable software tools that scale, is the possible solution.

For rich text editors, a buy-and-assemble component approach minimises custom-build outside a company’s expertise, it facilitates continuous deployment of software from a reusable stack and maximises dev talent – who then pick the exact tools they need for every project.

Alternatively, if you utilize an open source core like TinyMCE – that has components your team can use as a framework for customization – and support it with our professional team and advanced features, it can offer the best of both worlds.

Then when a market opportunity opens, the decision is easy. It’s not whether to build the feature or product. It’s not about whether to buy. Instead, the decision focuses on what aligns with the company’s market strategies.

That’s how you get products faster-to-market. At a smaller price tag.

Download the white paper:
The Great Debate: Buy vs. Build
Rich Text Editors

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