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.

 

This month, I return to the site of the corporately coloured Australian Bureau of Statistics  (http://www.abs.gov.au ), which I last reviewed back in March 1998.

 

The home page loads quickly, is well organised and contains links to new releases of the day, most recent releases, 'AusStats', to information on additions to the website and release calendars. The left hand navigation bar provides links to the entire site and includes access to a wealth of information about the Bureau's policies, services and products together with full contact details and job opportunities within the Bureau. The help section and local search engine complete the vast array of supporting information available. The most recent addition to the home page is the link allowing visitors to purchase publications online. A standard format used throughout the site makes the links easy to identify.

 

The ‘Statistics’ link from the homepage leads to a considerable range of basic indicators, general data and small area census data.  The majority of needs would be met from these tables. Speed of loading is good and all of the main series, e.g. on the CPI, are accompanied by extensive meta-data and a summary of the main points from the figures. Some of the charts included are fairly small and difficult to read. Within this section is a link to Australia Now – which appears to be a copy of the yearbook enhanced by the addition of a collection of special articles. Be warned, this area of the site is so fascinating you may be tempted to linger ……

 

When accessing information through the ‘Statistics’, ‘Themes’ or ‘Census’ links the side navigation is moved to the bottom of the page. This permits the whole screen to be used to display the relevant information which is up to date and well presented. Many of the pages have a series of links to other pages containing associated information – a good way of moving between related items. Unfortunately many of the links off the left-hand navigation bar display pages of information about data rather than the data. Where available the data are, in many cases, buried several layers down the hierarchy. The majority of tables are displayed in HTML format and visitors would benefit from having alternative formats available.

 

The education section is a nice idea allowing students, teachers and universities quick and easy access to information that will be of particular interest to them.

 

The ‘AusStats’ section introduces a different style of navigation using sliding menus. This is a good method of catering for the large menus required in this section but the home page link is placed under the ‘Other ABS Links’ header which is not intuitively obvious. All ‘free’ and ‘chargeable’ data is available from here – as long as you subscribe!  To be fair, summaries of tables, including some data, are available free of charge.

 

The e-commerce facility caters for both regular purchasers, who can benefit by becoming subscribers, and for individuals wanting to make a one-off purchase. For those who do not wish to divulge credit card information over the Net a telephone service is offered as an alternative. It would be preferable if data available by download were offered free of charge with only hard copies incurring a covering charge.

 

This is a large site with good navigation offering a huge amount of information. Overall the site has significantly extended the amount of free data and the site layout works well in most places.  The use of a particularly small font for descriptions of tables is not user-friendly.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 1 March at 10.00 hrs GMT using a high-speed link through Super JANet on a Pentium III 333MHz machine.

 

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

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