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.

 

A change of continent this month to Asia and to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia (http://www.statistics.gov.my/). The English version of this site was last reviewed in October 2000 and has changed significantly since then - not, in all cases, for the better. The home page is of a fixed width placed centrally in my screen: this does not take account of the xga and higher resolution screens becoming much more popular. Further, the use of flash graphics on the home page is distracting, with many ‘NEW’ items and the banner title all being dynamic – but not effectively so for the user. Further down the home page there is a rotating display of new publications – but none are hyper linked and the text on most is not readable. I changed the text size on my screen to the largest available and discovered that some of the text was presented in fixed size – and therefore not adjustable by the vision-impaired user. Even the update date is moving, slowly, even though it would fit easily into the space and be instantly readable.

 

The standard set for the links is consistently applied on the home page but, moving to ‘Latest Releases’ on the top navigation, reveals some black text used for links in the left hand navigation. The styles of the top navigation and the header have changed in the subsidiary screens with the navigation providing very neat drop-down expansions of the menus. This and other lower-level pages do expand to the full width of my xga resolution screen. On the releases page, several of the items have a flash ‘Update’: I followed one for a 1997 publication – but was not rewarded by any updated information. The page layout needs some rethinking here – perhaps to show the latest information for each subject in one line with a link for earlier releases.

 

Next I visited the ‘Key Statistics’ and found a reasonable array of them. The presentation, however, was in centred columns and not right justified, losing some of the power of the differentiation between adjacent data. Adjacent to the headings of some statistics a flash (3-dimensional!) graphic is a hyperlink to  a ready prepared diagram of the recent data series: even expanded, some of the information on these charts was unreadable. One very user-friendly feature is a quick drop-down menu to find the statistics one is looking for: this could be improved by putting the list into alphabetic order.

 

Current surveys provides a list of those surveys that are in the field at the moment: this is a great idea for other countries especially as the improper use of surveys as introductions to selling is increasing. Anyone can then check simply that the survey is genuine. This should be possible in Wales – but I am not sure if any one individual knows all of the official surveys being undertaken at any one time!

 

The ‘Questionnaire’ link provides a short set of surveys with links to copies of the various questionnaires – but the section is headed ‘Downloads’ and provides some tables for download, for example on the balance of payments, in a variety of formats. The data presentation in the one I viewed was in standard right justification form. Having visited several links in this section I tried to go back to the home page by use of the ‘Back’ button in the browser – but could not get back to the home page: the title bar graphic is not hyperlinked to ‘home’ but I did find (in another standard of presentation) a direct link on the top navigation.

 

The statistical output is vast and varied: a great deal of information is available at a price – but at least the many ways of obtaining the products are provided in detail at the end of the list (or at the end of the drop-down list). I could not find any databases on the site for direct interrogation.

 

The calendar of events only gave a list of in-house training courses – some of which had passed. The header for this list was in the same blue as used for hyperlinks but it was not linked. The calendars’ drop-down list includes the 2004 Advance release dates which produces an HTTP 404 error – page not found. The copyright date for the whole site appears as 2004: this is one of those easily overlooked jobs at the change of the year; use a reminder in your calendar to do such updating or produce a check-list for monthly, quarterly and annual changes.

 

Most pages have, as a footer, four useful items: a ‘print this page’ icon, a ‘bookmark this page’ icon, a ‘send this page to a friend’ icon and a ‘feedback’ icon: a minor improvement to these would be the use of a sans serif typeface, making them clearer and easier to read.

 

This site appears to have won several awards in Malaysia as a good site. The new home page is adventurous but needs to be kept in line with the rest of the site. Changing languages on the site (available on all pages) takes one to the home page of the other language – but could usefully be linked to the same page one is viewing in the other language: this is more work – but does encourage language learners.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 3 July at 21.00 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

Ed.Swires-Hennessy@dataunitwales.gov.uk 

 

For those in the UK Government Statistical Service, please let me have your views on how to improve STATnet - it's under review from July!