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.

More Christmas thoughts across the water from Finland to Estonia where the web address (http://www.stat.ee/ ) takes one straight to the English version of the site. This home page, slightly too long and with a revolving and fading graphic section (using Macromedia Flash), belies the exceptionally easy navigation of the rest of the site. The central position is for the latest statistical releases clearly showing both the date of the release and also a simple title.

Choosing any of the releases displays the release that appears to be a copy of the paper release with options to print as a document or PDF version: these versions are in a different typeface to the web version indicating some thought about the user’s reading on screen). Again the apparent simplicity masks an incredibly good set-up of the page with active links to the main sections of the site as well as an active e-mail address at the foot of the release for enquiries!

A full electronic catalogue of the paper publications is available – but with a difference. As long as one registers with the office providing basic contact details, you can order the publications and pay for them over the net. A standard net shopping system is provided with a shopping basket! The only downside to the process is that instead of electronic payment, an invoice is raised.

The Statistics heading has options for six different type of database as well as an explanation of symbols used. Choosing the first – Statistical Database – takes one to a very well structured hierarchical list of available data. The ease of extracting data from a ‘table’ is the kind of delivery all should aspire to. Not only can one select the elements of variables to be shown in the table but, before or after displaying the data, one can choose the output to be in one of 10 formats! Information about the ‘table’ is given through a hyperlink as is the footnotes. Thousand separators, be they spaces or commas, are the only missing element of the presentation. My only problem in this area was the navigation back to the home page – until I realised that the office’s logo was an active link to get me there.

The IMF indicators had a note at the top of the page indicating that the data were updated daily and that the last update was three days ago? But within this section a series of bookmarks on the page brings one to the relevant data or the well-organised release calendars: at the time of review, the calendars for the whole of 2003 was available. A small user point here: the 12 screens of the indicators has the whole set of footnotes at the end; relevant footnotes could easily be repeated under the appropriate table saving considerable scrolling. Alternatively, the page could be split into a hierarchical structure like the main database pages.

The heading Baltic States Statistics does not take the user to the latest data but to an electronic edition of an historical publication relating to the pre-1939 period. The statistics of the candidate countries is a link to an INSEE site – whose design I would not recommend.

The other two main headings on the site, ‘Products and Services’ and the ‘Statistical Office of Estonia’ provide a great deal of information about the statistics, the law on statistics and the contact points within the office.

The ease of use within this site places it in the top three of my ‘best’ or ‘most easy to use’ sites. Navigation below the home page is excellent: information provision is simple and easy to access.  
Happy surfing over the Christmas break …     

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 11 December at 10.00 hrs GMT using a 256 Kbit link to the Internet on a Pentium III 866 MHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to:

Ed.Swires-Hennessy@lgdu-wales.gov.uk