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.

 

I was asked recently to give a good example of a web site that contains the names and contact details of the senior management of the statistical office. The one that has stuck in my mind – for almost seven years – is Statistics Iceland. The previous review of this site (http://www.statice.is ) was in 1998 but the clear way the organisation was specified and contactable, by e-mail or telephone, has stuck in my mind. The up-to-date organisation chart can be accessed through ‘About Statistics Iceland’ on the left-hand navigation, and then ‘Organisation’. The chart provides the structure and the ‘Employees’ link the e-mail contacts: looking up an individual by name provides both the e-mail link and the direct telephone number. Other NSI sites don’t even tell you who the National Statistician is! (In the UK, you can find a short biography of the senior management but you do not know how to contact them as there are four offices across the country – and the information is not up-to-date.)

The home page is very neat with clear presentation of navigation, recent headlines and key data. The page title needs to be improved: ‘English – Microsoft Internet Explorer’ is not as helpful as ‘Statistics Iceland Home Page’. I tried to look at the first of the press releases and the text loaded quickly and easily but the table did not appear! It was an image and thus was not in the right place for downloading. Trying another press release, the table loaded but was not usable unless one wanted to copy the whole table to another document. This is as bad as using PDF files for data – and forces the users to retype data unnecessarily.

For access to the statistics on the site, the ‘Statistics’ link in the top navigation leads through a very neat theme index to the relevant data. Choosing a topic and following through to a sub-topic leads to a selection screen – the front end to PC-Axis tables. The user is able to select on the various dimensions of the table and tailor the output. This output can then be saved to files in various formats (the ‘text file’ appears in Icelandic but the tool tip is in English!). Finding data on this site was easy and will assist all users: what a pity it is not so easy on all statistical sites. Data presentation is generally excellent with just one exception: in some generated tables with a time dimension across columns, the time runs right to left and not the standard left to right. (I looked at live births by age of mother giving the wrong presentation and mid-year population estimates that gave the correct left to right presentation for time. Where the time dimension ran down the page, this also was sometimes backwards with the newest figures at the top.) Some tables appear to have the table descriptor missing: for example, on bank deposits, I did not know whether the data presented were in thousands, millions or billions of Icelandic Kroner.

When displaying the items within sub-topics, another navigation line appears at the top of the list – an A to Z index. This is not a full A to Z index of the particular topic but a link to the Yearbook – and the index has hyperlinked table numbers straight to the Excel versions of the tables (introduced in Wales many years ago). This publication, along with many others, can also be reached through the Publications link in the left-hand navigation. It would help the user if the size of the files was displayed alongside the links. Publications can be ordered but only one at a time. The order form does not use a secure link for payment but expects the user to enter the details of credit cards on a form for the statistical office to manually enter into a payment system.

The site is neat and easy to use. The home page is uncluttered and with a little effort could actually fit onto a single screen view. Hierarchically structured delivery of information helps the user to find their way through very easily. Within the press releases an alternative delivery of the tabular material would assist those who wanted to use any of the data.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.60 on 4 February 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