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.

This month I review the web site provided by Singapore Department of Statistics ( http://www.singstat.gov.sg/ ). The Home Page contains too many links in too many different formats resulting in a busy, cluttered appearance. Redesigning the page, reducing the level of detail and introducing a standard link format would create a more user friendly page.

This site offers a wealth of information and uses many innovative methods of dissemination. The recently created mailing list, SingStat Express, distributes regular publications to anyone who completes the quick and easy registration process. Details of the available information are supplemented by a release table so users know in advance when the information is due. This very effective method of dissemination is completed with further instructions for those who wish to be removed from the mailing list.

SingStat Datashop provides visitors with the opportunity to purchase and download electronic versions of publications online. The procedures for purchasing are fully documented and accompanied by an email address for queries or comments about the DataShop. This is another example of how providers can allow visitors fast and easy access to their data. Publications can be purchased either through the agent (an Internet bookstore) or directly: payment by cheque or credit card - but, at least on the Yearbook, the site does not tell you how much the book costs!

Throughout the site tables are provided in either pdf or html format. The pdf tables while being clear and easy to read do not allow easy transfer into a spreadsheet. Providing an alternative format such as MS Excel would help those visitors wishing to use the information for analysis and inclusion of the file size would give visitors an indication of the download time. Links to a site offering Adobe Acrobat Reader are conveniently offered throughout.

Navigation around the site could be better and is mainly dependent on links from the Home Page. The Site Index assists navigation but the contents, along with that of many of the lists of information available throughout the site, do not appear to be in any structured order. Organising information by date, or in alphabetical order would allow visitors to locate information much more easily. It is unusual for a modern site of this size not to provide a local search engine.

Detailed supporting information is available in abundance covering everything from the Department's role and method of gathering statistics to announcements of forthcoming events and new initiatives. The Glossary of Statistical Terms provides a clear guide to terminology used throughout the site but while the alphabetical index links directly to the required area a link back to the index has been omitted.

This is a large innovative site providing a vast amount of information using the latest web based technologies. For anyone in charge of managing a statistical site, a visit here would be a challenge because of the breadth of information so readily available. Attention to the few points noted above would help to maximise distribution and use of the information on offer.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 29 June at 11.00 hrs GMT using a high-speed link through Super JANet on a Pentium III 333MHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

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

Happy surfing ………….