Paying It Forward: Supporting The Best Free Small Business Tools We’ve Found

Free software for small life science businessesRecently there were rumors that the social bookmarking site Delicious, owned by Yahoo!, was being shuttered, the final story is not in but the latest post from Mashable indicates it will go under. It made me think about something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. We’ve built Comprendia and the San Diego Biotechnology Network with the help of some great free or cheap tools. Here we list the best software and services and will, where appropriate, make contributions to them as we think it’s a good strategy to support them to ensure that they’re around for our business.

  1. WordPress. If we didn’t care so much about style, we’d put this item in font 48, and we can because our website is built on this powerful, versatile, and free platform. In 2008 creating a company website solely from WordPress was a bit of a novelty, but we went for it and there’s no looking back, and we created the SDBN and OCBN sites using this content management system (CMS). WordPress is a frequent topic here on our site and we hope that the posts are helpful. WordPress is completely open source and you can donate to the WordPress foundation to help with development and education.
  2. Gimp. I’ve been using Gimp, a free image editing program, for more than 10 years. It has many of the features of Adobe Photoshop that a non-professional needs and runs on most operating systems. There is a bit of a learning curve, but as with most free software there is excellent documentation and ‘howtos’ on the web. It’s definitely worth taking the time to learn. We make all of the images for the blog and the biotech networks using it, check out our guide for finding and adapting your own. Learn how to contribute to gimp here.
  3. LinkedIn. We’re a big fan of LinkedIn for many reasons, you can read our past posts which may be helpful to you. We’ve created networks which connect thousands of biotech professionals and are used to effectively communicate events which strengthen relationships. Of course, LinkedIn is a business, and much of it is free, but we’ll support it in 2011 by having a Pro account. We are also in continual discussions with their product management team regarding group features, etc. which we hope will help their business model.
  4. Google. By most accounts Google doesn’t need donations or PR from us, but we think it is worth a mention as a great tool for small businesses. You name it, they’ve got it: web analytics and advertising, shared documents, calendars, and sites, and corporate email. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon, so we think they’re a safe bet for your business–check out all their applications here.

  5. WordPress Plugins. We’ve given you our list of essential WordPress plugins, which extend the functionality of our websites greatly, and there are a few we will donate to because they’ve helped us so much. One is cforms, which power all of our forms on the websites, from registration for events to questionnaires. It’s easy to use and you can even run your own polls. Another great plugin that we use, mostly on the biotech networks, is FeedWordPress. We use it to pull news from sites and feed it to both the blogs and Twitter (with help from an app called TwitterFeed, but they are not taking donations). Another great plugin is Redirection, which helps us make the ‘friendly’ or simplified URLs we can promote easily (and we use Bitly sometimes as well, which is external to WordPress).
  6. Yahoo! We would be remiss to not mention Yahoo, the purportedly struggling company that is the inspiration for this post. It is of course a business, and perhaps you could argue that being charitable towards a business does not help them. However, the alternative is to continually replace these services with startups that come and go–you decide what’s best for your business. From the mail I use personally to Yahoo Pipes for RSS feed filtering to Site Explorer which helps with SEO to Delicious bookmarks for sharing and research to Flickr which we use for image storing and search, Yahoo has many applications which deserve our support.

Several of the free applications we mentioned here are made possible by the GNU Public License, a project which supports software developers and end users, accounting for more than 60% of the free software on popular download sites. You can contribute to GNU and the Free Software Foundation’s high priority projects if you want to help (and it’s cool to see what’s there).

We are thankful to these developers and communities who have helped us grow our business, and I actually became aware of them when I was working as an X-ray crystallographer many moons ago. Coincidentally while writing this post I got a message from Michael Chelen, a bioinformatician who wants to help me with some RSS manipulation–we continue to communicate with developers and help them when we can. The timing is good for monetary donations to your favorite tools, as you can write them off for your 2010 taxes.

Which free software applications would you deem worthy of donations and why?

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  1. Not a software application, but I use wikipedia all the time. Since many genes are in wikipedia, it makes it very helpful to answer many questions. For example to quickly look up synonyms for genes.

    Here is another database that I’ve found very helpful in the past:

  2. WordPress is a great project to mention because it enables much of the communication we enjoy today. The core platform is so widely used that it is easy to forget how many additional functions are available through the plugin system.

    Yahoo Pipes continues to be effective and reliable, and with Yahoo Query Language now supports a code based interface more familiar to programmers, while still providing many convenient tools

    Either Pipes or YQL are great for working with RSS, hopefully with the right WordPress modules the full data set can be exported :)

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