We are starting to work on a web-based platform aiming to connect artists (clients) and professional freelancers (service providers). In-app, timeline-based, real-time communication between users (& storing it), file transfers, and push notifications are essential core features. We are considering using Node.js, ExpressJS, React, MongoDB stack with Socket.IO & Apollo, or maybe using Real-Time Database and functionalities of Firebase.
I would recommend looking hard into
Firebase for this project, especially if you do not have dedicated full-stack or backend members on your team.
The real time database, as you mentioned, is a great option, but I would also look into
Firestore. Similar to RTDB, it adds more functions and some cool methods as well. Also, another great thing about Firebase is you have easy access to storage and dead simple auth as well.
Apollo are great technologies as well, and may be the better option if you do not wish to cede as much control to third parties in your application.
Overall, I say if you wish to focus more time developing your
React application instead of other parts of your stack,
Firebase is a great way to do that.
DigitalOcean was where I began; its USD5/month is extremely competitive and the overall experience as highly user-friendly.
However, their offerings were lacking and integrating with other resources I had on AWS was getting more costly (due to transfer costs on AWS). Eventually I moved the entire project off DO's Droplets and onto AWS's EC2.
One may initially find the cost (w/o free tier) and interface of AWS daunting however with good planning you can achieve highly cost-efficient systems with savings plans, spot instances, etcetera.
Do not dive into AWS head-first! Seriously, don't. Stand back and read pricing documentation thoroughly. You can, not to the fault of AWS, easily go way overbudget. Your first action upon getting your AWS account should be to set up billing alarms for estimated and current bill totals.
I chose DigitalOcean because their pricing is very fair. Their tech support is very quick to respond to any inquiries you may have. They also have a community of developer who are more then happy to help you with any non-account issues you may have.
The drawbacks of this decision are their managed services can be quite pricey at $15/mo extra for a MySQL database.
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