Week of April 24, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

FreeDemographics.com: A Strong Site
Leading to Stronger, Un-Free Demographics

Demographics are at the heart of a lot of location decisions. And the current U.S. labor squeeze has only intensified that coronary-level connection.

The Web, of course, is fairly awash with demographics-focused sites. Some of them are quite good; others, not. FreeDemographics.com (www.freedemographics.com) looks like one of the good ones.

To get the decision-making demographics you really need, though, you may have to drop the "free" from that address and pick up your wallet.

To its credit, FreeDemographics.com makes no bones about what it's trying to do. As the site forthrightly explains, "FreeDemographics.com has been developed by SRC, LLC to introduce you to our family of micromarketing solutions."

Nothing wrong with that approach - and a whole lot that's right about its business sense. And the site not only provides an appealing appetizer to introduce the product line. In addition, some of the demographics it's giving away may arm some users with valuable info in weighing potential locations.

Stale Info Could Produce Problems

The site's free demographics, though, do come with one substantial down side -- they're based on 1990 U.S. Census data. And no one in the U.S. needs to be reminded of the year, since recently we've all been repeatedly beaten around the head and shoulders with prods to mail in our pesky little 2000 Census forms.

Obviously, that means some of this site's free data may be dicey for planning purposes. A number of substantial U.S. demographic shifts are under way. Consider, for example, the many "edge cities" that have seemed to emerge seemingly overnight as U.S. location hotspots. (It wasn't overnight, of course; it was, however, damn fast.) In like fashion, a number of once flourishing areas, many in core cities, have nose-dived into economic decline with startling rapidity - some of them later gentrified with similar speed.

You get the drift here. Ten-year intervals in information present major problems in presenting statistical pictures that reflect current realities -- particularly when you're at the end of one of those 10-year intervals.

FreeDemographics.com is certainly aware of all that. Two of its homepage click-offs, for example, are "U.S. Census 2000 Information" and "U.S. Census 2000 Report Sample."

The site's Census Information section, for example, describes the particulars of the 2000 Census, including sample reports developed from the Census Bureau's three designated "testing grounds."

(If you already know those three test site areas, you are now officially declared a Bona Fide Info Wizard. If, like almost all of us, you didn't, they're in Sacramento County, Calif., in an 11-county South Carolina area, and at the Menominee Reservation in Menominee County, Wis.)

FreeDemographics.com certainly has no control over the timing of the Census reports. At least for the moment, though, that timing certainly works to up the appeal of its sister, paid-subscription sites for the U.S. and Canada, which provide current estimates and five-year projections. (More about that anon.)

Sample Reports and Creating the
Donald Trump High-Rise House of Worship

What FreeDemographics.com offers for free, though, is pretty solid stuff.

For example, using the 1990 U.S. Census data, FreeDemographics.com allows users to create customized reports for any geographic area that they select. Options include radius-based reports, as well as summary and comparison reports.

You can get an idea of what the site offers by clicking on the "Sample Reports" icon, which is located on the upper left-hand side of the home page.

In addition, we decided to test-drive the site's report capabilities on our own.

One of the reports we generated was a radius report (using the "Custom Radius" option). Using that option yields reports composed of demographic information for radiuses of one mile (1.7 km.), three miles (5.1 km.) or five miles (8.5 km.) from a user-specified address. (In addition to the custom option, there are 15 other choices for radius mapping; they range from the very broad, such as by state, to the far more specific, such as by zip code or postal city name.)

We used our home address in the Atlanta metro in generating that radius report. That gave us a good, broad informational breakdown, including education levels, employment-by-occupation breakdowns and employment by industry, plus fairly detailed population profiles. The varying radiuses provided some interesting insights.

For example, there's a fair measure of racial diversity in our neighborhood - but only once you get out to the five-mile radius. On the other hand, both educational levels and the area percentage of residents in the "professional/managerial" category drop off the farther the distance from our home.

So, since this is a hypothetical report, we made a hypothetical site selection decision: We decided that our rather Yuppie-fied neighborhood was a prime location for the very first Donald Trump High-Rise House of Worship. (Our first pass at a motto: "You Gotta Pay to Get In; You Gotta Pay to Get Out.")

A Fast, Smooth Site Ride

Another plus for the FreeDemographics.com site is its remarkable speed and seamless navigation. And we put it through the paces - asking it to simultaneously sort by as many as 16 variables. Whatever the number of variables, though, the completed reports popped up onscreen only a second or two later.

You do have to register to get the site's free goodies.

Registration, though, is fast, without the endless queries that recall . . . well, the U.S. Census Bureau.

Another thing we liked about FreeDemographics.com's registration process: Once you're registered, you get an e-mail confirmation, seconds later, which includes your sign-in name and password.

This is an idea whose time has really, really come. Many of we Web-ophiles have signed up for literally dozens of sites. And we often can't use the same user names and passwords across the board, since other users on some sites have already claimed them. The upshot is that users have to keep up with a huge amount of information - exactly the kind of thing the Web should squelch.

Like FreeDemographics.com, many required-registration Web sites have caught on, and they're offering this kind of email confirmation. But far too many still don't.

The For-Fee Option

As with many other demographics-centered sites, it will be interesting to see what FreeDemographics.com does with the 2000 Census info.

Many users, though, may have business needs that make such a long wait prohibitive. Which is precisely why this site has links to its two for-fee siblings: www.demographicsnow.com, for U.S. information; and www.demographics.com for Canadian data.

These two sites also have a bit of the Census Bureau Lag Blues, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as at FreeDemographics.com. Demographicsnow.com bases part of its reports on 1990 U.S. Census data. The Canadian data is fresher, based on 1996 Canadian Census information.

The big difference is that the two paid sites have current-year estimates for the free site's host of variables. In addition, the user-pay sites provide five-year projections, plus mapping capabilities.

Both sites have "Free Demo Areas," which can give users a little better idea of what the product does. All the sample U.S. reports are for Wyoming, while all the sample Canadian reports are for Queens County.

The demo areas also give you a peek at the two sites' mapping capabilities. You can't manipulate the demo maps; you can only view them. Nonetheless, they certainly look rich in both detail and functionality.

The cost? For the U.S. site, the listed cost is US$99 per month "per user" or $995 per year per user. The Canadian site's per-user costs are listed $199 per month and $1,995 per year. (The Canadian site doesn't specify whether it's using Canadian or U.S. dollar figures.)

That's certainly not cheap, particularly if the "per user" cost is literally construed within a single company.

On the other hand, demographics that grievously misread either the present or the future can yield bad location decisions that end up squandering millions.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.