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What your ZIP code (and big data) says about you

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Your ZIP code -- originally developed to efficiently direct mail to your home -- might be telling other people, especially people who want to sell you something, more about you than you might expect.

A project by software company Esri, the Tapestry Segmentation project, has put U.S. Census Bureau demographic data together with marketing data from GfK Mediamark Research & Intelligence to give a pinpoint -- or ZIP code -- picture of how we live, how much we make, what we buy and much more information.

On its Tapestry website, visitors can enter their own 5-digit Zoning Improvement Plan code and will be presented with comprehensive demographic, lifestyle, business and consumer data for their local area.

On the website they can compare that with comparable demographic and socioeconomic data for their county, state or the nation at large.

Any ZIP code can yield similar information -- income level, median age, population density -- for any location a person might enter, such as an intended vacation destination or perhaps a new home candidate brought on by a change in employment.

The Tapestry effort has tracked a number of changes in the U.S. population, the company says.

They include more diversity, increased aging, changing households, slower growth and reduced income.

Esri has parsed the census and marketing data into 67 profiles of U.S. market segments, linked to every ZIP code in the country.

The segments are identified by names obviously intended to be self-explanatory, such as "Laptops and Lattes," or down-to-Earth "Prairie Living."

"Dorms to Diplomas" are described as college students with a median income of $17,000 that never go anywhere without their smartphones and are "impulse buyers who experiment with different brands."

"Top Tier," at the other end of the income and age spectrum, are described as those with an accumulated average net worth of more than $1.5 million who live in suburbs near major metropolitan areas along the U.S. coasts and are "attentive to good nutrition and fresh organic foods."

There are also "Trendsetters," and hardworking "Diners and Miners" in the U.S. South.

Curious about yourself? Just provide Esri with your ZIP code; you're in there somewhere, and a lot is known about you, perhaps more than you're aware of, or might be comfortable with.

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