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.

First, I wish all of my readers a Happy New Year.  I had thought to stop the reviews – having completed four years of this monthly task – but I was encouraged by comments recently at the Assistants’ conference and so we begin year five!  This month I return to Ireland (http://www.cso.ie/ ), a site last reviewed in September 2000.  It was obvious then that the site was struggling with the provision of the information in two languages, Gaelic and English.  Since then a large redevelopment has occurred and this review seeks to summarise the findings today. The language struggle continues with even the top level page unavailable in Gaelic.

The front page – with its extensive graphics took a minute to load, a little too slow: some of this may have been accounted for by the seasonal extension to the banner.  This page is too long and could be speeded up and shortened by the use of text rather than graphics.  Two features of this page are not welcome: a revolving strap-line of the latest data uses the ‘teletype approach to presentation – too slow even on the dial-up link.  Secondly, the ‘new site updates’ area on the right middle of the page has six different topics fading in one after the other: to get at the underlying information, you have to read the description and ‘click’ on the right one and if you miss the one you want you have to wait 30 seconds for it to reappear.  The space taken by the graphic outline and the space around it could be better used by providing a hyperlinked list to all of the six major items.  I could not find the list under ‘Recent News’ or ‘What’s new’.  Further, the graphic used for the ‘search the CSO website’ is not hyperlinked but in the same format as those that are e.g. ‘survey forms’.

The ‘About us’ link leads to much more detail than usual, including a 20,000 word summary (file size not noted) of the development of the office.  The main page, however, is basically one page with bookmarks – which means it all has to be loaded on access, something that is not too good when using a dial-up modem. Some thought on the organisational structure page (e.g. removal of the oft repeated ‘division’) would allow all the information to be visible without scrolling.  To return to the home page one has to click on the bottom half of the CSO logo!

The ‘statistics’ section is again a long book-marked page.  Some confusion is apparent with the use of the term ‘principal’: it is the heading of the long book-marked page but also appears within each subject and in the three item summary list on the left-hand index (which is in a different order from that presented in the main page).  This presentation could be improved, on going to the ‘statistics’ page, one was presented with a list of topics of statistics.  Some thought about how to integrate the non-CSO and international data better could prove rewarding.

The heading on the principal statistics page for demography (better known by the general public as ‘population and vital statistics’) is demography and labour force but the list gives a separate page for labour force data. Also, from a consistency point, the first table presented under ‘population’ has ‘total’ for the sum of males and females, but the second table has ‘persons’.  In the table giving the value of the Irish pound a typeface error has occurred.  Much basic data is to be had in this section.

A new feature is the availability of survey forms in PDF format: to date only eight are loaded. Full instructions are available for even the amateur to get a copy of the form.  The site also uses pure PDF format for the recent press releases which is fine as long as you don’t want to use any data from them: it would be useful for the user if the tables were available through the PDF – a facility that is becoming more common as the copy and paste of tables from PDF presentations yields only single column results.  I was particularly disappointed to follow the link on the front page to the Statistical Yearbook, presuming to be able to see the book in PDF format, only to find just the press release – which didn’t even tell me where to get a copy of the book!

I was surprised not to have links listed for Scotland and Wales, though that for UK National Statistics is shown as the ‘Office for National Statistics’.

But now for the major plaudit: the spreadsheet service (accessed via the DataBank Direct button on the home page) provides a wealth of data, reasonably well organised, that can be downloaded into spreadsheets through copy and paste functions.  Putting lists in alphabetic order, or by category, would aid the user.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 3 January 2002 at 17.00 hrs GMT using a 56k modem link on an AMD 700 machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

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

Happy surfing ………….