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.

 

The Government of India, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation site (http://mospi.nic.in/ ) has changed its URL since I last reviewed the site in June 2000. The new home page is a fixed size (for 800 x 600 pixel viewing) with constantly loading picture files. My usual approach to the loading of pages is to note how long the full load takes, including pictures, and so I was amused that the loading continues .. and continues. After a few downloads of the same picture sequence, I noticed that it was the same set of 13 GIF files. Even with a fast broadband connection, the home page took 10 seconds to load: the first load actually loaded two pages, the second being the announcement of the relocation of the statistics library. The poor definition picture on the home page, along with other GIF files accounts for over 100kb – with little reward for the wait. The animation on various objects is very distracting and is carried through to the sub-menus. The typeface on the home page includes much in a serif face – though this is not favoured in other pages, e.g. on the vision and mission.

 

Following the link ‘About us’, much information is provided: the use of a very large font size on the Vision and Mission pages looks odd with the fixed width of the header. Reducing the size for the Mission page would enable it all to be seen on one page without scrolling – a definite advantage. Two entries into the information are provided: a direct link from the ‘About us’ button and a roll-over displayed list. The displayed list is different from the list when opening the ‘About us’ page. Some of the links open PDF files – without warning of size – in new windows which is unnecessary. Within a site, it is generally better not to open new windows: however, if a link is to a file off-site, then a new window is appropriate.

 

Access to the news releases is from the very irritating ‘News’ GIF on the right-hand side of the page: this opens a new page – which, when I accessed it, had four colours of text (inconsistently applied), 8 items of news (not in any order) and two different typefaces. One link was to a PDF file – again with no size notified. The news item said this was the 230th Flash report – but I linked to the 231st! Its size was only 13 kb – and could easily have been an HTML page. Incidentally, the report has poor data presentation with the numbers centred in columns. Another user problem occurs when opening such new windows (in this case as a fixed size): the text of the news item is wider than the window and thus to effectively read it requires almost continuous horizontal scrolling to the right and then to the left – for every line! Within the index of industrial production press release one of the seven tables was in a different typeface with numbers centred in the columns.

 

In search of statistics, I looked in the Central Statistical Organisation area: this produced a roll-over list of areas and some of the items on this list produced a subsidiary list (in different start positions on the page!). A time delay needs to be introduced into the presence of these lists so that when moving the cursor across the page, the list does not disappear. I followed the link to Other statistics and then to Vital Rates: the resultant table had data in a mix of justified left and right as well as centred and only gave data to 1997. I found the population data under ‘Social Statistics’ – but the background colour of the page was not a favoured pastel shade.

 

I had expected to find a range of statistics in well-ordered tables. Notes within the site talk of a future data warehouse (with assistance from Australia and Canada) but there is not even an ‘India in figures’ area highlighted with a summary of the most important figures (though the publication is theoretically available through publications in PDF format – on my first attempt, I received a ‘Cannot find server’ message; on the second attempt, I received a registration form on screen to be completed to access the publications). Odd tables are scattered through the site – which need to be re-organised into a more effective presentation with good navigation. The publications area is not effective and the absence of file sizes for large publications is difficult from a user perspective. Even chopping the publications into chapters would considerably reduce the download time. It is invidious to have to download the whole of the Statistical Abstract of India for one table – and then having to retype the data for onward use.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.60 on 22 March at 10.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium M 1.6 GHz machine.

 

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

Ed.Swires-Hennessy@dataunitwales.gov.uk