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.

At the beginning of June UK's National Statistics and its associated new look Internet site was born. Many months in germination, the expectation was high when visiting ( http://www.statistics.gov.uk ). For new readers of my column, it is necessary to state that the site has been reviewed twice before (once in 1998 and once in 1999) and the overall summary each time was not good.

What a vast difference from the old sites: gone are the marketeers and the useless splash page. The opening page is welcoming, with a great number of pointers to further information. The colour scheme and lack of underlining of hyperlinks makes for a difficult start - but patience and trial will yield great rewards.

The 'main feature' is about the themes of statistics on the site: Following the link takes one to a list and explanation what the themes are. Following any theme brings a list of standard hyperlinks for Introduction, What's New, Theme description, Articles and key tables, Books and CDs etc. The list leads to a mass of further information about the theme, statistics, metadata and products. Some books etc can now be ordered online and some can be viewed online.

But the greatest change with this release of the site is the mass of statistics available: Statbase features prominently in the 'Other features part of the front page - but so does UK in Figures (if it is not on the front page when you read this, it can be accessed through 'Learning Zone' under the 'General' list on the front page). The UK in Figures presentation will certainly appeal to the occasional visitor who just wants to find the odd statistics - and the animation makes it interesting for the younger visitor.

The latest figures are available through the Press Releases ('latest figures' on the front page). These data are presented in Adobe Acrobat format only - which can cause some problems for users of any comment or data. And at 9.30 hrs the number of accesses exceeded the capacity of the server to cope - a release of the Consumer Price Index was posted then. The latest releases are in a simple list covering a month - which is difficult for anyone to read through. The German system is more user friendly. I tried the title search for 'Labour Market' and 'Population' but no results appeared for either - despite entries in the archive for at least the Labour Market. The archive section allows one to choose a month and year. When all

The introduction of a 'Learning Zone' with relevant 'themed' data is a definite plus which all enquiry points need to thoroughly understand and use as a first point of reference for students.

The online bookstore is in the lead amongst other countries with many publications available at the touch of a button. The current list is just about acceptable now - but will not be when many more are online. The Scottish contribution is a model for the rest of National Statistics.

If you have not yet visited this site, let me commend it to you: you may then have ideas for improvement, expansion, etc - let James Denman know (James.Denman@ons.gov.uk) and the ideas can be discussed.

Since my last review, I have also looked at the new-look Department of Transport site on statistics:
( http://www.transtat.detr.gov.uk/ ). The navigation is basic but very easy and quick to load the extensive set of tables. A little more use of hierarchy screens would give a great boost to access.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 11 July at 09.00 hrs GMT using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Comments and suggestions for sites to review to me, please,

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

... Happy surfing