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.

Snow on the hills of Wales reminded me of the greater snow on the mountains of Switzerland. Never having reviewed the site of the Swiss Federal Statistics Office, I thought I should take a look (http://www.statistik.admin.ch/eindex.htm). The home page is one of the best on the net today from its visual standpoint and lack of clutter or complication apart from a couple of minor faults. On the day of the review a brief revolving headline announced a press release three weeks ago – which appeared not to be hyperlinked (by not changing my pointer to a hand) from the text area: however, a simple left click did bring up the relevant information. Also, the census ‘graphic’ does not use the word ‘Census’ and I followed this link … to find much information about the census in English!

Looking through the economic time series data produced an interesting presentation of data: the data for quarters within a year were given with the standard top for oldest, bottom for newest, but the years were the other way round. The resultant table was in HTML format and the individual series could be easily extracted or downloaded to Excel but this mix of time dimension would take some sorting out. Using GDP as an example, the reading of the table is quite difficult: here time within a year progresses from left to right, whereas the years work up the page, contrary to the normal reader’s perception. At the foot of each table are three buttons: Home, Contents and Field. The first takes one back to the Home page, as expected; the second gives access to other data around the subject of the table and the third gives access to the ‘Field’ metadata. This metadata is easy to navigate though, when I followed the link to a GDP table, I had time in years going across the page.

Most of the navigation is simple to use and follow: some dead ends (Floppy disk page in English or French) occur with no navigation at the foot of pages and, in these case the left hand navigation sometimes scrolls up and off the page when moving down the content. Different standards for navigation caused some initial confusion: the Economic indicator list is all in black type and not underlined – but is hyperlinked; The typefaces used are not consistent: it is not clear whether a move to a sans serif typeface is in progress: certainly the HTML tables are easy to read though those provided as background, in Times New Roman, are not.

A host of basic statistics are available for comparison between Switzerland and many countries: much of the data is, however, out of date: for example on the UK-Switzerland comparison, most data refer to 1999 but could easily be updated to 2001. The section is commendable – but surely it would be better to access the UN-ECE site or UN Statistics Department for such central information: the disadvantage of some of the UN data though is that they publish the data in PDF files – notorious for their non-transportability into useable tables.

Much more data is available from STATWEB or via the disks and CD-Rom products: these are available only in French or German and are priced. The list of electronic products in French contains brief descriptions of the products – which gives a page 6 screens long: perhaps a little structuring is required here.

This site is commendable for what it seeks to provide in four languages. Some relatively small changes, to typeface and presentation, would make a significant difference to the usability of the statistics given in the site.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 4 February at 15.00 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

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