Surfing with Ed on the Internet…

by Ed Swires-Hennessy, Local Government Data Unit ~ Wales

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

Access to the site of the National Bureau of Statistics of China was painfully slow. This was not a one off problem as I have tried to access the site both today and over the past week at ( ). The opening page took over 5 minutes on my fast line today – and I had given up on last week’s attempts because the page opening was so slow. My first thought on the subject was that the inclusion of over 20 graphic files in this page was just slowing the whole down – but the majority of the files are very small. So it must be an access to the web server problem. And this reminds me that it is always useful to check your sites from an external machine – and that preferably on a dial-up slow line: that will give an impression of the speed achieved by the casual visitor to the site and may cause a rethink on the overall design. Indeed would not this be better as one of the tests of a new design of a site?  

When this front page has loaded, it almost fits within the one screen at 1024 x 768 resolution: however, important parts of the navigation (contact us, FAQs etc) are off the bottom of the screen and that despite a significant amount of room spare on the left-hand navigation space. For some odd reason, three of the links are black not blue and do not change to red on rollover, as do the rest.

As usual, I started with population. Accessing Statistical Indicators on the left-hand navigation did produce a screen with the heading population – but following this only gives definitions and no figures. Two headings at the foot of the page offer Related Resources and Articles Accessories – but neither were hyperlinked: this is possibly a development for the future but the ‘links’ should not be there unless they lead somewhere. So I accessed Statistical Data: this page was quick to load the actual content but the 20-odd graphics again took a long time to download. The user does not get data here just a calendar-like table with some of the entries in bold (meaning hyperlinked pages are accessed here). The typeface has changed to a serif variety – and is much harder to read. The headings are basically economic statistics and the navigation should thus read ‘Economic Statistics’ so as not to mislead. The heading on the table is ‘Monthly data’ but the first four rows – and four others – are quarterly series! I did look at the Retail Price Index page for January: the resulting table was neatly presented but had two sets of identical information: I think the table was supposed to show the change over the previous month and over the previous year but both part showed changes over the last year. I used the search to get some annual data but the list returned looked like a set of monthly series (as on the right of the results it said ‘monthly data’: I followed one (Investments in fixed assets by region) and had an error page, code 704. Still no population data …

For a final try, I went to the Census data link on the top navigation (and another few minutes to download the page) but had the same table of data returned as for the monthly data.

This site is so slow and with basic data absent that it is not one I recommend my readers to visit. But it does reinforce the points of too many graphics, slow access, poor presentation and poor organisation – which we all need to be reminded of frequently.

As usual, I also tried to send a copy of the review to the webmaster – but found that the links at the foot of the page to Contact us etc were not active! A trace on the timing for the net route indicated significant slowing over the Chinese path.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 2 April at 09.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium III 866 MHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to