Finding Demographic Facts with the New FactFinder!

Believe it or not, the U.S. Census Bureau has been a real innovator in technology since <a href=“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Hollerith“>Herman Hollerith</a> patented the first automated tabulation machine.  And guess where he was when he applied for the patent?  – yep, the U.S. Census Bureau.  See, the Census Bureau needed a better way of counting the 1890 census and this was a huge step in the technology of taking and reporting on the Census – it took a full year just to do the counting!

Technology of census taking didn’t stop there but moved steadily to the development of the first HUGE mainframe computers, optical scanning, devices, the first data driven CD-ROM, mapping and geographic identification, and now, a second generation in providing internet access to literally billions of cells of census data.

In the 1990’s the Census Bureau realized they couldn’t continue printing huge volumes of paper to report on the results of the 2000 census.  After years of development and collaboration with many private vendors and user groups, American FactFinder was born and has been the nation’s primary resource for accessing census economic and demographic data.  It served that function for nearly 15 years but is now being retired for the new kid on the block – FactFinder 2!  Catchy name don’t you think?

For those of us providing census data services through the old FactFinder, this transition is a little painful.  Sometimes it really is tough to teach old dogs new tricks.  The interface is different, the terminology is different, the access process is different – but, the new system also contains a wealth of new capabilities and consolidates virtually all of the Census Bureau’s data products into one access system.

Since the new FactFinder was unveiled in January of 2011 for the release of the 2010 Census results there have been whoops and cries from data users around the country who didn’t like it.  It wasn’t intuitive (of course neither is the old one when you first access it!), the geography selection was cumbersome, and you just couldn’t find what you were looking for.  As experienced users, we wanted to go straight to the geographic areas, files, and subjects we knew were there.  After all it was so easy to get where we wanted to go in the old system.

For the last year we have moved back and forth between the two systems as they ran concurrently on Census Bureau servers.  But those days are ending.  On Sunday, January 22nd, just a year after release of the new FactFinder, our old friend will be retired.  We’ll no longer have the option to go back to the old system so all of us old dogs are going to move to a new system whether we like it or not.

Stay tuned for some tips and techniques about how to use the new system and keep that flow of census data coming.

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