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 we travel just across the Channel .. to France. The site of the ‘Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques’ of France (INSEE for short) . The front page has very small and quick to load graphics and offers a reduced version of the site in English. The user is also given a choice of whether to display the pages with frames or in text only mode.

For the English only browser the site offers data only on National Accounts. This part of the site is one which appears to have been recently designed and has been assembled with the internet user in mind. A clear hierarchy of information leads the user quickly to the relevant part: it was a pity that the main hierarchy continued to be displayed throughout – it meant use of the scroll bars was necessary. The publication in French is also available in portable document format (.PDF) which can be viewed or printed.

The mission statement of the INSEE was shown as well as an explanation or the organisation. Short summaries of each area is also provided. For those wanting to find out about ‘International information’ one is directed to the various offices of the INSEE: for both Wales and England, the direction is to the office in Rouen (who don’t subscribe to the Welsh publications!)

On the French version of the site (obviously) much more information is available. The Brief Guide to France in Figures has 28 well set out tables of data, most over a year out of date. The tables were well laid out and readily cut and pasted into Excel. I was a little bemused by the poor timeliness but then scrolling to the foot of the page I identified that the later, 1988, edition was available – but only in .PDF format! This is a retrograde step as the later data will not be directly useable by cutting and pasting.

Data are available on population and population density from 1990 (census) and in a format that can be used (by switching to a non-proportional font like Courier). The data for the later survey of communes (1998) is not available on the site but is being sold through the site.

I was excited when I noticed a connection to the SIRENE server – the one containing data for all enterprises in France. On arriving there, however, I just obtained two pages of description and some addresses from which to purchase analyses from the database.

Overall this was a poorly developed site though some important and well developed parts were visible. The available statistics are few in number and not in easy formats for the Internet user to digest. For example, who wants to download 1.2 Mb of a file of the latest Brief Guide to France in Figures to get at just one of the 28 sections?

At the start of the year a summary of the 1998 features found on sites visited was published in Status. Do any of my readers have any pet loves or hates on visiting statistical sites? If so do send me an e-mail detailing the love, hate and site reference.

This review was undertaken using Netscape version 4.06 on 1 July at 22.30 using a V34.4 modem on a 233 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Suggestions of interesting sites or interesting features found at statistical sites should be sent to me at

or by snail mail to National Assembly for Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NQ.


.......... Happy surfing ..