The Absolutely Best Free Software

Tom H. C. Anderson
March 18th, 2013

And what it says about our profession


There’s a question I hear quite often whether at industry conferences, on blogs, or in professional groups on LinkedIn. Researchers, both supplier and even client side, are asking each other for recommendations on free software. Yes, it seems it’s more often for “free” software, once in a while “low cost” and sometimes even “the best free software”, but hardly ever for “the best software”.

Whether for survey, data mining, visualization or text analytics software, it seems that the most important variable is cost or more precisely, that it has no cost whatsoever.

I have to say it’s made me wonder a bit about the health of our profession. If software is very low cost or free, it’s usually because it has relatively little value. There are some rare exceptions of course, SurveyMonkey for instance. I’ll have to admit, for about 60% of surveys, it’s probably sufficient. While my company no longer programs surveys, as we now focus exclusively on our text analytics software, when we did we never used SurveyMonkey — Why?

Well for two reasons. First, as a professional research firm, we needed software that would work in all cases, not just 60%. So even if conjoint, advanced rotations and logic weren’t necessary for a certain project, since we already had the more robust software, there was no reason to use SurveyMonkey. The second reason, and somewhat less significant I admit, as a professional research firm I felt it was unfair to charge clients professional prices while using less professional/free tools. [Note, I don’t see any problems with using Survey monkey if you are a client side researcher or a non professional researcher doing an occasional simple survey.]

Now, as for other research related software, I’ve seen very little value in any of the “free” stuff. It’s usually more difficult to use and far less powerful. This means you will typically invest more time using it and get less results in return, a lose-lose situation, especially in a profession that bills mainly for their time.

What I really don’t understand is when a supplier side researcher asks me about free software for use on a project that a client is paying for. When I probe, they usually explain, “my client is on a tight budget”. I don’t say anything but I usually wonder… “how can they then afford to pay you to waste your time?”

Ironically, I think about other occupations including carpenters, electricians, etc. who charge less per hour for their time. They usually take the greatest pride in selecting only tools of the highest quality as they know it makes them more productive and reflects on their professionalism. I’ve NEVER heard a carpenter say, “hey, I love these hammers cause I can get them free!”
Time is valuable and what we do is valuable, let’s treat it that way.

Now, switching topics a bit, I’m in need of some extra analytical help. Can anyone recommend any great free market researchers?


[Full Disclosure: Tom H. C. Anderson is Managing Partner of Anderson Analytics which develops and sells patent pending data mining and text analytics software platform OdinText]

2 thoughts on “The Absolutely Best Free Software”

  1. Note, there are some exceptions like R, Python, Octave, Linux, Hadoop… But wasn’t really referring to these as they aren’t really common end user software, technically more programming language, so you kind of have to be a developer and/or be able script to use. Most don’t or can’t.

    While I many readers of the blog are ‘data miners’ please realize, that you/we are outliers constituting only a very small fraction of the market research community which this was addressed to. My aim with the post is more general. If highly skilled data miners were not in such short supply this might be a moot discussion.

    The fact is that the most commonly used survey software out there is SurveyMonkey and the most commonly used ‘text analytics tool’ (if I can even call it that) is Wordle. specific to analytics the most commonly used package (with all it’s CS faults and inability to handle larger data) is SPSS, as it is rather user friendly and cheap. Just want to put this discussion in perspective.

  2. You no undoubtedly know what you are talking about in regards to text analytics. Software costs a lot of money to develop and hone over years of trial and error usually. Lots of updates. Lots of feedback. Quality software shouldn’t be free or cheap but if you overprice it, you will eliminate the masses and only (hopefully) generate a few sales here and there. I am a software provider myself. It’s no doubt anywhere near the level of sophistication that yours is but it’s relatively affordable. How are you supposed to gain awareness for your product if you only sell it to companies that can afford a 5-digit price tag? Fewer sales with big payoff vs more sales with less payoff.

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