ON-LINE investing is getting easier in Hong Kong, and with last week's launch of Interactive Investor's free Asian web site, Internet-based information services are now available to match every budget. But the amount of data, its timeliness and level of detail vary considerably from service to service. Sometimes, you get what you pay for. So, for example, the soar-away information service for local do-it-yourselfers would have to be Reuter's Asian Investor ( www.hkis.reu ters.com). But it carries a price tag to match: $3,000 per month. Increasingly, however, you can get a lot of information without paying a cent. The arrival of Interactive Investor ( www.iii-asia.com ) is one of those times. 'We started the company about three years ago, and the objective was to change the distribution of information in the financial-services sector and to revolutionise it,' said Sherry Leigh Coutu, the founder and chairman of Britain-based Interactive Investor International, or III. III has made that ambitious goal workable by selling advertising. This approach, which allows it to provide fairly comprehensive information at no cost to users, could spark even hotter competition on the local on-line investing scene. For instance, with III providing real-time financial news from AFX-Asia for free, one has to wonder how long Asia Online ( www.asiaonline . net), Netvigator ( www.net vigator.com) and Star Internet ( www.hkstar.com ) can continue to charge $238 a month for the same service. On the mutual-fund front, III has teamed up with fund tracker Lipper Analytical Services Asia to offer pricing and performance information for more than 6,000 unit trusts, including the approximately 1,500 funds authorised for sale locally. Funds can be compared based on their three-month, one, three, five and 10-year performance and can be searched by asset class, company, geographical focus, investment objective and size. The site is not yet bug-free, however. We found the English-language link for Hong Kong-authorised funds to be out of service, leaving users to sift through the global listing of offshore funds or to turn to the Chinese-language option. III aims to make 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the site's information available in Chinese within a few months. Investors can ask to be alerted - via e-mail or mobile phone - to dramatic changes in the price of a particular fund. The same service is also available for equities. Speaking of stocks, the III site provides listings from six of the world's top markets: Hong Kong, Frankfurt, London, Nasdaq, New York and Paris. These are not real-time; delays range from 15 minutes for Frankfurt to 60 minutes for Hong Kong. In this area of the site, too, glitches remain. For example, we found that Cathay Pacific Airways did not turn up among the Hong Kong stock listings but could be found in Frankfurt. And there was no historical data available for any of the Hong Kong stocks we checked, although such data was available for secondary listings overseas. The site contains a portfolio-tracking option that can monitor a range of personal investments, from unit trusts and stocks to insurance, pensions and offshore trusts. This makes it possible for individual investors to keep track of their bottom line at all times - or ignore it until one of the programmable price alerts arrives. But most users seem to follow their portfolios with great interest. 'Seventy per cent of the people go in and they hit that portfolio button,' Ms Coutu said. The site also carries a wealth of news, which is provided in two streams: free and pay-per-access. The free 'lunchtime briefing' section provides a daily summary of the Asian press drawn from AFX-Asia dispatches. There is also a free searchable archive containing stories from AFX, Benchmark magazine and several Financial Times publications, including The International. Users in need of more-detailed information can access the database from Dialog, which is compiled from more than 40,000 information suppliers around the world, including the South China Morning Post. This service is charged on a fee-per-article basis. Last but not least, III plans to host moderated investor forums, where individuals and experts can converse as equals, or nearly so. Registrations are being accepted on the site now, and forums will get under way as soon as the number of participants reaches a critical mass. Ms Coutu expressed hope that investors would find the same kind of camaraderie in the forums that they now found by hanging out at their neighbourhood bank or brokerage office. In fact, she hoped the forums would represent an improvement because participants would have access to better information.