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.

It is almost four years since I last visited Statistics New Zealand (http://www.stats.govt.nz/) and it appears that I have missed out on at least one major revamp of their site.  The current version is fixed width, whereas the one I missed (still currently accessible from the new front page) is variable. The new home page is more succinct – extremely quick to load (the large graphic present at my last review has, thankfully, been removed) and very customer focussed. How many of my readers have ever thought about helping the users by giving them a guide to where the areas they were used to visiting could be found on the new organisation of a site? It is pleasing to see that all the text on pages can be made larger for the visually impaired.

Clearly much research has gone into the design and structure of the home page – with a result that most of us should be trying to emulate. The roll-over change for all of the links is very clear and similar in all of the navigation areas. A very minor point – the text of the left-hand navigation links is in a serif typeface unlike the rest. The centre section of the home page gives access to all releases, past as well as the latest: one minor issue here is the colour used in the Release Calendar for the titles of the releases – they are not hyperlinked (even for past months?) but are coloured blue. If the intention is not to hyperlink, do not use the hyperlink colour!

The top right has the latest key figures – and limited to just 5. That reminds me of the story when a President of the European Commission wanted just 5 indicators to represent the social state of the EU: finding the appropriate 5 takes much more time than providing 20 or 200. Below this section are some quick-links. The first goes to the top 20 statistics – and each one of the portrayed panels contains the data, the time period and a link to a release called ‘HOTP’ – Hot Off The Press: these documents appear to be much more user-friendly than many I have seen, without vast arrays of data in the documents though the data can be accessed through a link (possibly with one too many steps). Indeed, each of the Hot Off The Press releases has five elements: a media release, highlights, commentary, technical notes and associated tables (some, additionally, have analytical tables). Such a range covers all the foreseeable requirements of the different levels of users.

The left hand navigation contains the links to the vast information resource of the office as well as the organisation information. Most of the telephone numbers in the contacts section are in international format – though not all. The clear hierarchical structure of the site through the vast array of information is commendable. The use of underlined blue text for links does not work too well when you have pages of table links (e.g. on the people and Society / Education / Census publication).

The Census of Population and Dwellings is a simple front-end for the users of the information and one can quickly get either area or subject profiles. The cognoscenti can also go further and access the tables of data and all the technical material – all from a relatively simple front page. Another user-friendly front-end allows the users to find table of data from the census that have already been prepared – in Excel or ‘Tablebuilder’ format: the latter format allows easy manipulation and expansion of the tables.

This site has vastly improved since my last visit – with the different types of user being easily catered for. The simplification of the home page and other lead pages within the site must have taken a significant amount of effort that has been amply rewarded by the result. This site moves to the top of my recommended list for all seeking ideas for improvement in their own sites.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 9 January 2004 at 08.30 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

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