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.

Just next door, physically, from Romania is Bulgaria a country with Cyrillic script. The web site of the National Statistical Institute is in English and Bulgarian and can be found at ( ). The opening screen download was considerably delayed because of the picture of the office building! Further, the choice of language is not available until the second screen: so even using the small amount of English on the first screen does not link one to the English part of the site.

The heading and buttons on page 2 are gifs and use up valuable download space (over 20k bytes) – one can create a similar effect for the buttons using a coloured cell of a table with borders.

This second screen is as far as one can go in English! Everything else in English finishes up with an ‘under construction’ page. If that is the sum total of the English offering it would be better not to be there at all: it currently misleads users into believing that some data with English description is available.

Not being the kind of guy to give up easily, I looked at the rest of the site in Bulgarian, believing that I would not understand the delivery but could at least look at the presentation. The approach was not without reward. Following the Bulgarian for statistics delivers the fact book 'Bulgaria and the World in Figures' and the opening page is bilingual! A contents list at the foot of the page allows access into the data on most of the basic subjects. The four tables in the population chapter are all comparative across Europe but the ordering of the countries is unusual: perhaps the rows are ordered by their Bulgarian names. Displayed by the side of the tables is an explorer type list, in Bulgarian, of the tables available and clicking on one of the list produces tables –some quite up to date with unemployment up to the middle of 1999. The labour section in English again gives country comparative data but, in the first two tables, gives 1996 and 1997 data for the countries in alternate rows this not really being conducive to comparison. Either separate tables or creating a wider table would aid comparison over across countries. But the page does contain some metadata giving definitions of the categories used.

Tables 2 and 3 in the Industry section seem to have something wrong with the column headings. The unnumbered table sin the health section have a different ordering of countries – EU countries first in alphabetic order followed by non-EU countries almost in alphabetic order.

It is recognised that the site is under development but does give me opportunity to stress to all my readers that we should not excite the appetites of our customers by purporting to offer more than we do. For NSI sites, ‘Under construction’ messages are inappropriate: this is almost as great a sin in the Internet world as broken links (which are just so frustrating!).

Always consider the data provided and make sure it is in the most understandable format. Too often paper publication presentation standards are thrown to the wind when new technology is brought in: so we have poor presentations of graphics, tables etc that would not be tolerated in our paper publications. A CD-Rom I recently demonstrated (produced in the UK!) had data columns rounded to thousands where the data were given to three decimal places – and the end of the series had numbers 0.001 and 0.000!

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 27 January at 15.30 using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Comments and suggestions to me, please,

... Happy surfing