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.
For this review I continued to muse about the summer and the warmth of Italy and the Italians. Since my last visit to Istat, the Italian National Institute of Statistics whose site is found at http://www.istat.it/ , the web site has lost its English language version. Nevertheless I had a look around the site and found sufficient of merit to be able to comment.
The overall site is fixed in width which inevitably loses some display capabilities whilst retaining full control over how the pages appear to the user. The new colour selection is simple, efficient and pleasing to the eye. The Istat graphic is a small file and the addition of a small (and efficient) graphic at the top of the left-hand navigation column when away from the home page adds a little to the user view. The home page is packed with information, probably too much, and yet the designers have sought to draw the user's attention to the various parts of the page by bolder and larger headings. One simple instance of poor design is on the right hand side of the home page where the word 'Prezzi' is in a black and bold typeface on a grey background (like the top navigation) but the word is not linked. The underlining of many of the headings is poorly effected with the line obliterating some of the lower parts of the letters. Unusually the home page carries a link to the previous version of the site at the bottom right of the page: anyone taking the time to view this will see that the update last January was radical.
The major links are in black across the top of the page: an open link form here turns the text into brown. Black text is not the best for links if one is also using black text on the information pages. A sub-list of links includes the archives - rarely seen on official sites. The left-hand navigation changes contextually and is offered in white on brown background: rolling over these links, as for the top navigation, shows the navigation text underlined.
My first foray was into the population data. By following 'Censimenti' from the top navigation and 'Data warehouse' on the left-hand navigation, one is taken to the new warehouse DaWinci! The second option in the centre of the page is an English version of the results of the population census. The user is taken to a slightly differently designed page which allows 'Data access'. Another click and one is presented with the historic table of population. And this is where the presentation points came alive. At the top of the table is a list of tables by number together with a link to a standard listing of tables usually found in paper formats of output: however, the list of table numbers is not just numbers! Using tool tips, the designer has added the table title to each of the numbers: regular users can check the table they want before access. Also note, to the right of the table numbers, the options for the data format: this novel approach will allow the user to format the data on the site before use! Selecting the format just once provides all tables in the same format. Even the headline information at the top-right of the home page is linked to a longer textual summary with a link to the database containing more data.
Information on Istat is available from the second of the top navigation: here one has access to the organisation chart of the office: the Italian version has full information and hyperlinks to the e-mail addresses but the English version is an old PDF file.
This site has several features that have made it worthy of a review even though it is not mainly available in English. The addition of the magnifier on individual pages, which is a marginal help to visually-impaired users, is not a substitute for allowing the users to have normal control through browser tools. This site restricts the user to view the site at the size and resolution chosen by the designers and, should you choose to look at a page of information in a larger typeface, it is opened in a new window with just the text and not the navigation. However the selection of data formats by the user is a first and one that could be considered by all wishing for international users.
A Happy and prosperous New Year to all my readers.
This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.0 on 6 January 2006 at 16.00 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