Surfing with Ed on the Internet ...

by Ed Swires-Hennessy, National Assembly for Wales

Ed continues his appraisals of different national Web Sites to stimulate use of the Internet, share best practice and encourage debate.

The English language website of the most populated country in the EU (Germany) is at http://www.statistik-bund.de/e_home.htm.This front page - with just a few graphics - loads in less than 2 seconds, is simple, instructive and helpful, not too cluttered and gives a clue as to contents. The site is dynamic and changes (for the better) each time I look.

The loading speed is not restricted to the home page - all the others I looked at loaded almost instantly as if the pages were stored locally. The thought behind the structure is obvious and the simplicity of the result masks the understanding of users so clearly taken into account. For example, following the Press Releases button from the home page leads to a page with just seven key options: the main ones offer the user three views of the press releases and a calendar. This release calendar is of the type I praised in the review of the Bank of England's site, that is the calendar links directly to those already published. All Press releases carry a contact for further information which, surprisingly, is only by telephone.

The careful colour design helps the user identify which area he is currently in and the site navigation is excellent from all angles.

Figures and facts leads to an abundance of free data, including economic and the IMF indicators. What I really appreciated in this section was the Basic data. For each of the 21 subject areas, an overall written summary of the key points of the data is given with the possibility of accessing tables and, sometimes, charts (always called graphs), survey details and samples from publications: these latter options are context sensitive.

The tables in this section are very carefully presented and give sufficient information for the casual user. All commentaries have e-mail contact points for further information. The time series part of the site is restricted to those who will pay for the data - and is only available in German.

Under 'Scientific forum' the publication 'Methods, approaches and developments' is available for free download in English and details developments both in Germany and on the international scene. This is now a common process - and happens on the Dutch site. Having such publications available on the web is good news but needs to be broadcast. I feel another note to Status coming on….

This site must rank as the best I have visited in the recent past: from speed of access, organisation and information points of view. The 'single screen view' concept with minimal vertical scrolling has been thoroughly thought out and applied: navigation is conceptual and clear, assisting the user. Only once did I make a mistake on the navigation following the colour coded link - but chastised myself for trying to go too quickly without reading all the options. For anyone who wants ideas about the organisation of a site with easy user-oriented access, this must be the site to start with.

All tables published on the net need as careful scrutiny as their paper predecessors - but this is not always given: often it is the footnotes that are overlooked when updating. For example, in the Population development and life expectancy table, footnote 2 is now redundant and should have been removed with consequential renumbering of the others.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 6 April at 08.00 using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Comments and suggestions for sites to review to me, please,

Ed Swires-Hennessy@Wales.gsi.gov.uk

... Happy surfing