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 nearly four years since I visited the site of the Federal Statistics Office of Germany ( ). The office has been rebranded with a new logo and corporate design. At that time the main delivery of data was in fixed pages with a small amount being delivered via a database. This has now changed significantly – and all of the main data is delivered through a database. Today the home page in German is about 5 screens deep but in English is considerably shorter – only two screens’ depth. Much of the text is in a small fixed size (at least my browser cannot adjust any of it) which means it is not a friendly site for the visually impaired. Have you tried to see what impact enlarging the text size has on your site? (In Internet Explorer, View/Text size/largest) For a comparison, see the effect when enlarging the text size on the site . The left-hand navigation has both a drop down selector for the economic indicators as well as a long list of themes – so long that the search box appears below the screen. The central news portion is just too long and could be abbreviated significantly to fit within one screen. On the right a different set of navigation options causes confusion: does a red square, some of which are hyperlinked, mean a link or not? The Statistics-Shop link does not have a square but is a hyperlink – to a page in German only. In the left hand navigation within the shop page more confusion exists on navigation: is a square a hyperlink (as on the home page) or not? A simple change on all pages would be to hyperlink the office title and the logo back to the home page.

Following the Population link on the home page, the user has a choice of articles, tables, charts or press notices. It is very easy to use and the tables, in HTML format, are easily extracted by the user. I am not sure why the list of themes is so unstructured. Looking at consumer prices, the tables are again neatly presented but the date information is backwards, with the latest first: compare this with the date presentation in the foreign population table that runs oldest to newest. However, a very neat delivery here is the addition of other links on the page to monthly or change data.

The Statistics Portal leads to a simple yet very effective set of data for the Lander. The ease of use, presentation and extraction will help many casual as well as regular users to quickly obtain the required information. The ‘home’ link here takes one to the home page of the portal – not back to the Federal Statistics site. Looking to the more general database, GENESIS, the first screen is mainly presented in English but, once into the detail, the information is only in German.

As a service to users of the web site, country profiles are provided: small files in PDF format but with a significant amount of comparable information. The list of countries is not in alphabetical order (nor on the German equivalent page). The information should also be provided in a usable format (MS Word or Excel) so people can select portions for further use.

My last look was to the regional atlas – highlighted in the central ‘news’ column. I first thought I had found a link that went to the wrong language page – as I was presented with a German language page. However, converting to the English version of the page does have the Regional Atlas graphic link. This Atlas uses scalable vector graphics – and allows the user to define colours in presentation of charts and maps. Its use does require an add-in which could prevent many security conscious users from access.

This site has much to commend it to the designer and developer. Nevertheless, some additional attention to detail, consistency of navigation and presentation will make it even better. Noting areas that are not yet fully bilingual will avoid disappointment of users. Sizes of files are given – but not always (e.g. Yearbook in German) to advise the user but some larger ones should also be broken down into smaller sections so that the user can select the portion of interest. On the on-line publications side, a couple of significant links returned error 404.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.60 on 11 January 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