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.

The Olympic Games return to Greece in the next few months and my attention was turned to the statistics on the site of the General Secretariat of the National Statistical Service of Greece (http://www.statistics.gr/Main_eng.asp). The heading on the page is long. The flag for the language switch is not hyperlinked – only the text is. The first impression of the home page is that it is difficult to read: some of this is because of the small font size used but mainly it is because a serif font – in italics – forms the bulk of the text. Simply changing the typeface to a sans serif one (like Arial or Helvetica) would improve the visual appearance dramatically.

The basic navigation is from the top bar – made up of graphical images – some of which have a drop-down sub-menu. Again a change of typeface would improve usability. The first item is headed ‘Presentation’ but gives a potted history of the development of official statistics in Greece. The return to the home page is not really obvious – one has to use the text link ‘Main page’ below the navigation bar: most usually there would be a ‘Home’ item in the top menu bar – which could easily be achieved by a little reorganisation. The ‘Structure’ item is an organisation chart of the office – but uses the same blue as in some navigation. To return to the home page, the text is now changed to ‘Start page’.

Products and services gives links to the contents list of the main publications, without any data, and theoretically to a map collection – but the server returned a ‘Cannot find server’ message. I looked at the press release information: gimmicks had been added to some of the entries, noting the new series, and the provision of a hierarchically structured set of information is certainly on the right lines. Looking carefully at the data tables in the last two consumer price index releases revealed very poor data presentation: some numbers are centred in columns, some even left-justified. The charts were in three dimensions – some without helpful gridlines. The list of releases for the previous years have a curious order: May, April, January, February, June, March etc. for 2003 but a different order for 2002! A similar expansion of the list of releases for earlier years could be applied here to great effect.

The next section, on statistical data, did produce well structured table lists: I looked at the demography section and the historical table on numbers and rates of births: the data had been updated by someone who did not check the look of the table before publishing as they had used a different typeface and size of text. The navigation in this section is better but inconsistent, using two different shades of blue for hyperlinks. The arrows to the left of the headings are also usefully linked.

My second foray into the News item produced an error message (Microsoft OLE DB Provider for Oracle error '80004005') but had previously shown the only piece of News to be the cooperation agreement with Cyprus. The links item produces an odd looking menu – with grey hyperlinked text. At the time of trying, all of the links produced the same error as the News page.

The link to the publication at the left side of the page is to ‘Greece in numbers’ but in fact links to ‘Greece in figures’. The file is 200kb and opens quickly though there is no navigation or hyperlinking: just a PDF of the booklet. Nevertheless, the data presentation and the charts are of a good quality. The link to the census data base, even from the English home page, links to the Greek version but with a language switch. Inside, the user is treated to a very user friendly front-end to the database from which data can be extracted easily and presented in three different formats – with two download options!

Overall, the site needs a great deal of attention to navigation and detail of presentation. Standards for presentation on the web need to be maintained and should be written down to give the successive web staff a head start.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 9 June 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@lgdu-wales.gov.uk