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.

The thought of warm African rain turned my attention at the start of this New Year to Tanzania (http://www.tanzania.go.tz/statisticsf.html) and to the sub-site for the National Bureau of Statistics on the Government of Tanzania’s site. The home page is 5 screens deep – only because it is a long page with bookmarks instead of separate, small, pages linked from the hyperlinked list of topics in the main area of the visible page. Not as striking as the main part of navigation is that just below the office title – not as clear as it could be in the blue half tone. Here the Country Profile follows the design of the home page and gives the user a book-marked page. The information is in suitable chunks for the casual user and gives a whole list of other information, prepared in the same format, on a range of other topics. Some marginal errors of presentation (most of the site is in the recommended sans serif typeface but some is not), data presentation (the area of woodland in the Country Profile has, I believe, a full stop instead of a comma shrinking the area of forest by a factor of 1,000: the history of the country has a ‘)’ instead of a zero in the last paragraph) and navigation (following ‘minerals’ from the left-hand country list takes one to a list of reforms) detract a little.

The top navigation on the page is actually from the main site’s page and thus one cannot blame the Bureau for the poor working of the Immigration link.

But the statistics part of the site lacks any sizable set of data – the information is either ‘Coming soon’ or gave a broken link (as for population). In another area I did find the population projections data – poorly presented with left-justified data.

Overall the site needs some better organisation and presentation of aggregate but organised statistics.

Quickly moving further south to South Africa (http://www.statssa.gov.za/), last reviewed in 1998, one can see a vast difference in the presentation of data. But much has to be obtained either through the press releases or through signing up to access the time series data. The time series data comes in 17 blocks – with a variable number of series in each block (e.g. 389 series in the Building statistics block) that are downloadable in several formats including ASCII and Excel. Key economic data are reached through the left-hand navigation but, for something as simple as the population, one has to go through ‘Publications’ and then know that ‘Statistics in brief’  & ‘Demography’ will give the answer. The ‘Searches’ within site button was not working at the time of visit.

The use of a moving ‘headline’ detracts from the site’s overall appearance. The documentation available to the user through the left-hand navigation is well structured and provides much background to classifications, the office and other areas of consultation. Further, a significant archive has been built up of historic reports – accessed through the top navigation: these reports, mainly in PDF format, have been zipped for quicker downloading. Within these reports some of the chart presentations (e.g. on Tourism 2000) is poor, particularly for on-screen reading, and some mis-leading. Within the full copy of the 2000 Yearbook, tables in the on-screen PDF version looked mis-aligned but were perfect when printed.

This site could be greatly improved by the adoption of a sans serif font throughout the site and indications of file sizes for downloadable files, particularly when they are over 300 kb (The Stats SA 2000 Yearbook is over 2 Mb even when zipped!). The introduction of the new home page has not been thoroughly effected through the site – and I finished up being redirected – from within the site: even the page title is still ‘New Page 1’ which suggests development is ongoing.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 2 January 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