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.

The new National Statistician is to come all the way from New Zealand. To find out about New Zealand you don’t have to travel all that way as it is easier and quicker to look at the elegant Statistics New Zealand’s website ( http://www.stats.govt.nz/ ). The site’s opening page, as some of the others, is full of graphics (I counted over 40 GIF files before I stopped counting) which considerably slow down the loading of the page: the full front page took 53 seconds to load on my high speed connection! It is technically very modern and, hence, breaks some of the basic conventions of the web.

One interesting – and very useful - feature for someone wanting a quick overview of the statistics on New Zealand is the ‘Top 20 statistics’ page. This presents demographic, economic and social data with links to the appropriate press releases or other documents. It is similar to the feature I have previously recommended for press notices in the review of the Statistics Sweden site.

A new book is advertised in the New Zealand Now series entitled ‘Families and Households’ which summarises the data from the 1966 and later censuses: the contents and chapter 1 are available for viewing on the site but, should you wish to see the whole book on the web, you will have to purchase even the right to view and print! That process will cost you the same as purchasing a printed copy from a bookshop!

In contrast the site contains an abridged version of the New Zealand yearbook with a very good and quick hierarchically structured menu system to find the required information. Many tables and charts are clearly presented which can be cut and pasted into any document one is preparing. Indeed, the tables are some of the best (for clarity and understanding) I have seen on the web.

The page introducing the key information and statistics on the country is again slowed by GIF files but – worse – options under themes allow topics to be selected from a set of drop down lists: but for two of the lists only one option is possible! I chose Environment in the ‘Land and Environment’ section: this produced some information thought to be useful: I looked at the main offering – to find it is the chapter from the yearbook. The publishing calendar offered was the general one and not specific to the environment.

Anyone can subscribe to copies of the press notices – at a cost – and can have them delivered by Fax, post or e-mail with the charges for fax between two and three times the latter two modes of delivery.

Overall the New Zealand site does offer data and some very good features but is hampered from a user’s point of view by the quantity of graphics used through the site. The balance between novel and useful is often struck without the outside user in mind.

Quality is sometimes overlooked in constructing websites. Always check the newly published information: for this it is preferable to use another browser on an independent machine. This will ensure that the content appears as you think it should, having regard to the basic principles of statistical dissemination. Too often the presentation of data is not up to normal standards.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 23 February at 15.30 using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Comments and suggestions to me, please,

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

... Happy surfing