Surfing with Ed on the Internet…

by Ed Swires-Hennessy, UK Statistics Authority

Ed continues his appraisals of different national web sites to stimulate use of the Internet, share best practice and encourage debate.

This month I wandered to the east to China. The National Bureau of Statistics web site ( ) is a fixed size page that fits into the middle of the browser window. The advantage of this approach is that the designer controls the layout but the disadvantage is that much of my screen was unused!

The navigation is clear with two colours of link, both of which change to red on hovering. The top navigation is in a very neat layered set of tabs. The ticker had only one message when reviewed – about the economy. This linked to a statement by the Commissioner containing much data which cried out for rounding.

Following the link via Statistical Data tab, the user is faced with a matrix where the rows are the type of data available monthly and the matrix is filled with links for each month’s information. I remember this kind of presentation was used in the Bank of England’s site for press notices. To the left of the matrix is a set of options to change from monthly data to quarterly or annual. The quarterly GDP data was easy to understand – that for 2009 was an 8.7 per cent increase over 2008! The CPI data is on the monthly list and the population data on the yearly data list: the former link produces a simple table but the latter gives an unusual link. Entering 2008 into the population line of the and clicking on the search takes the user to the China Statistical Yearbook of 2008. Following the population link in the chapter list which forms the left-hand navigation, it expanded to a list of tables: I chose 3.1 which seemed to give the simplest population table. However, instead of getting the 2008 population, a table of data from 1978 to … 2007 appeared. No 2008 data. One interesting provision is that set of options at the top of the table window allowing the user to open the table in an Excel version for further processing, switch language to Chinese or view the table in the full screen. (There is also a toggle at the top of the contents to set a preference of HTML or Excel tables). The disadvantage to the user from following this route is that neither the English ‘Home’ is visible nor the page heading hyperlinked to ‘Home’. If you speak Chinese, you are fine since the bottom of the contents does have a link to the Chinese version of the Home page.

The navigation tab ‘Standards’ links to the classifications used by the Bureau. The tab ‘Agency information’ leads to a large (in Kb) picture of the organisation chart: much more information about the Bureau is accessed via the ‘About us’ link in the bottom navigation.

The site is obviously being developed as the ‘Publications’ tab links back to the home page. The site does contain a lot of metadata – but it is hidden in the ‘Programs and Indicators’ tab. Choosing any of the presented list gives the user the metadata about the subject.

The site does have some useful and good features. I particularly like the option both to specify that all tables should be in either HTML or Excel and to be able to choose at the individual table level. Many unnecessary new windows were created as I meandered through the site which did not help my mind’s navigation. The matrices of information links can be applied in different ways to aid archiving and comparison over time.

I am sure the English version of the site is but a minimal set of what is available on the Chinese language version – but my Chinese knowledge will not let me test that presumption! However, it is clear that the Chinese version has 18 tabs in the top navigation – compared to 9 in the English version.

Happy surfing ...

This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 5 March 2010 at 13.30 hrs GMT using a 20 Mb link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

The views expressed in the review are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer. This and earlier reviews are published to my website, 

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to