To Build or Buy - Understanding Notification Services and Their Critical Role in Modern Applications

Anjali Arya
February 20, 2024
Discover the importance of having a dedicated notification service for your application. Simplify codebase, enhance user experience, and prepare for scaling. Read now to learn more!

Applications today communicate with users across multiple touchpoints and devices, generating a multitude of notifications daily. While notifications play a crucial role in engaging and updating users, managing their sheer number and diversity often burdens the core application logic. Developers face increasing pressure to provide flexible, efficient, and reliable methods for delivering contextual information to users. One possible answer lies in employing a dedicated notification service.

This article delves into the purpose of notification services, examines the differences between bare-bones delivery mechanisms and fully featured notification services, discusses key criteria for deciding when to adopt a notification service, enumerates vital features expected from a mature notification service, and compares various implementation approaches.

Defining Notification Services

A notification service is a specialized framework responsible for managing, scheduling, distributing, and analyzing product-related updates directed toward users. Such services handle various notification types, formats, and transport layers while adapting to changing business conditions, regulatory compliance, and customer preferences. Moreover, they enable better separation of concerns, allowing organizations to decouple communication modules from primary application flows, resulting in reduced overhead and improved fault tolerance.

Delivery Mechanisms Versus Complete Notification Services

Delivery mechanisms constitute fundamental building blocks for transmitting data packages across networks. Examples include Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), Google Cloud Pub/Sub, RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka, and similar technologies. However, delivery mechanisms alone cannot meet the growing demand for sophisticated, personalized, multi-platform, and actionable notifications.

Full-featured notification services augment plain delivery mechanisms by offering several advanced functions such as:

  • Designer toolkits for creating visually appealing and interactive notifications compatible with different target environments
  • User preference centers permitting fine-grained opt-in/opt-out configurations
  • Auditing trails capturing detailed metadata related to dispatch attempts, failures, retries, and successful deliveries
  • Performance monitoring, load balancing, and traffic shaping techniques to minimize latencies and maximize throughout
  • Reporting interfaces presenting aggregated statistics regarding usage patterns, adoption trends, error budgets, and cost estimates

Additionally, complete notification services integrate seamlessly with popular CRMs, ticketing systems, content management platforms, and other enterprise applications, extending their reach and value proposition.

Criteria For Deciding Whether To Use a Notification Service

Organizations contemplating the introduction of a notification service should examine three main dimensions before reaching a decision:

  • Communication complexity: Is the current application landscape characterized by numerous disparate notifications spanning various media channels, languages, geographies, time zones, privacy regulations, and accessibility guidelines? Does the organization anticipate future growth along those axes?
  • Integration compatibility: Can off-the-shelf notification services match the nuanced behavior exhibited by existing backend systems, middleware brokers, and client apps? Are there exceptional situations necessitating custom extensions or plugins?
  • Operational flexibility: Would an independent notification service empower staff members to configure, administer, and scale up communication pipelines autonomously, reducing reliance on central IT departments? Could self-contained notification services accelerate time-to-market, increase agility, and lower total cost of ownership compared to proprietary solutions tightly integrated with legacy assets?

Should answers to any of these questions suggest potential benefits stemming from the deployment of a dedicated notification service, proceeding forward with proper planning becomes advisable.

Essential Features Of Mature Notification Services

Robust notification services support numerous common and advanced features addressing both technical and non-technical stakeholders alike. Some notable characteristics include:

Non-technical features:

  • Multiple supported channels (Email, In-App, Push, SMS, Voice, Fax, Social Media, Webhooks, RSS Feeds)
  • Graphical authoring environment enabling designers to craft compelling and consistent visual representations conforming to brand identity guidelines
  • Localization facilities accommodating text, date, currency, and cultural variations
  • Device emulators previewing mockups across myriad screen sizes, aspect ratios, operating systems, browsers, assistive technologies, and adaptive layouts

Technical features:

  • Unified SDK exposing standardized programming interfaces irrespective of underlying transports
  • Configurable retry policies governing failed transmission attempts
  • Real-time progress indicators reflecting queue statuses, pending items, completion percentages, and estimated times remaining
  • Extensive documentation detailing installation procedures, configuration parameters, developer guides, FAQs, release notes, and community contributions

Comparing Different Approaches To Implementing Notification Services

Selecting the right strategy hinges upon an accurate assessment of desired outcomes, resource availability, risk appetite, competitive pressures, and strategic vision. Three prevalent paths emerge:

  • Direct Integration: Connecting to cloud-hosted messaging platforms (SES, Twilio, SendGrid, et al.), utilizing RESTful APIs, web hooks, or serverless functions directly from within application source code offers simplicity but sacrifices extensibility and portability.
  • Third-Party Managed Services: Leveraging commercial vendor offerings such as SuprSend and others provides rapid prototyping, shortened learning curves, prebuilt connectors, and ongoing maintenance. Still, such convenience comes at the expense of restricted customizability, inflated costs, limited scalability, and lock-in risks.
  • Building Internal Capabilities: Crafting homegrown notification services allows maximum flexibility, governance, innovation, and autonomy. Yet, pursuing this option involves substantial initial investment, prolonged gestation periods, continuous evolution efforts, and regular audits verifying alignment with emerging best practices.


Determining when to introduce a notification service represents a pivotal choice affecting both immediate tactical objectives and long-term strategic goals. Assessing relevant criteria intelligently, prioritizing desirable properties, and comparing alternative courses of actions contribute significantly to making informed choices conducive to sustainable success. Regardless of chosen tactics, focusing on modularity, abstraction, composability, automation, observability, and security principles ensures positive outcomes aligned with user expectations and corporate priorities.

Written by:
Anjali Arya
Product & Analytics, SuprSend

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