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.

 

I have chosen this month to go back to Africa. The last visit to the site of the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics was three years ago and I went with eager anticipation of significant changes. The home page of the site (http://www.ubos.org/ ) still takes a little while to download, indicating a server connection problem in Entebbe. The design has been significantly improved with minimal graphics –but with the introduction of flash graphics to highlight new items (though they are not all that recent). The organisation on the home page is functional and a small reduction in the number of news items carried would allow the whole of the home page to fit onto one screen: one thing is certain – the abbreviation of the headlines certainly works! Removing the underlining from the emboldened text which do not form hyperlinks would also assist reading.

 

Within the site, I found several flash graphics which add little for the serious user – and just slow down the access to the data. On the Statistics page, linked from the top navigation, changes in typeface and the use of italics could be changed to a sans-serif typeface to improve readability. The available data was presented centred in columns instead of right justified: this was not the case in the all of the Census report – the size of which was not noted against the link – where some of the tables were right justified and some centred. Diagrams in the Census Report do not follow convention, not showing gridlines and, in figure 2.2, showing time running from right to left (though figure 3.5 does follow normal conventions).

 

Following Publications, I examined the Statistical Abstract. The main page gives an outline of the Abstract, giving the user hope that they can access just one chapter by showing the headings in ‘hyperlink’ blue – which they cannot, and then asking the user to download 1.87 Mb of a PDF file. Splitting into 4 chapters would be much better for the user – and going further and putting the tables in Excel or HTML format would be even better! On this page, the left-hand navigation also changed typeface to a serif one.

 

The next publication I examined was the Consumer Price Index – where the latest table was in HTML and right justified – and where links were given to earlier press releases. The table heading was, however, in ‘hyperlink’ blue. The left-hand navigation has also changed format here. The Newsletter is now old – June 2004 – and does not deserve a place in the top navigation if so infrequent.

 

The FAQS link from the top navigation is a great idea. However, the questions are all in one list, admittedly with sub-headings, which took several minutes to download and then spanned 7 pages with bookmarks to places in the 30 pages of answers following! This calls for a better use of the ability to hyperlink and to have the main headings of questions as a list which links to the individual questions under that heading: the individual questions could link to the specific answers, delivered as new windows.

 

When I reviewed the site three years ago, I urged the adoption of standards for the whole of the site as displayed by one of the then pages. Such standards are still required – and need to be applied throughout. Do you have written standards? Are they always followed? Are they reviewed? As summer approaches, let us reflect on the development of our web sites and how we can do better in the coming year.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 1 June at 18.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

 

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!

 

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

Ed.Swires-Hennessy@dataunitwales.gov.uk