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.

It is now nearly three years since I looked at what was happening across the Atlantic in the USA. The Federal Statistics portal is still in operation (http://www.fedstats.gov/ ) and, like the New Zealand home page (reviewed in January 2004), the entrance is in a very simple single screen page – which is both easy to read and navigate. The basic page is split into two – one half for links to statistics and the other for links to statistical agencies. But how easy to understand and go where you want! The whole of the USA statistics summarised into five headings. And the limited use of graphics – a mere 12 kb – means that the page would be quick and easy to download.

Topic links is just that – a link to list of topics with an appropriate alphabet at the top of the page (note the letters that have no entries are not hyperlinked). Following my usual line of enquiry, I tried to find the population data. The topic index only lists the 1990 data – and following that link produces a census page which then has a link to the 2000 census data: not a very elegant route. Tracing the Consumer Price Index was much simpler and yielded a page of links with the most recent data in a display box to the right of the page.

MapStats provides data for each of the states in a convenient form. The data for the state and the whole of the USA is given: some additional prudent rounding of data may have been appropriate here as the first thing someone will do with numbers of 10 digits is to round them. The system also allows the user to drill down below the state to counties and cities, getting similar information.

Through the next item on the menu, Statistics by Geography, one can get mid-year estimates of population data for the United Kingdom easier than by going to the National Statistics website (admittedly only for the year 2000). The vast range of data available from the many federal agencies through the portal is truly amazing: the only downside to me is the many and varied presentations of the different agencies’ websites: I have to admit that nothing better is promised though, as a user, it really would be more helpful if the data were all presented in a similar way through similar front ends. [One of my disappointments with the way the UK handles data from the many agencies is that one has to get used to many delivery types and styles and engines – to get data on one subject for the UK as a whole – if the data request is not standard].

The Statistical Reference Shelf contains not only links to publications but also to other key material. Following the Federal Briefing Rooms link in the first heading, I quickly finished up on the White House site with simple explanations of what was happening with prices. Further detail is available by following more links on the pages.

Any dipping into this site will both thrill statisticians and the webbies. The seamless transition through sites all over the USA is quite mind-blowing. Some of the navigation is not consistent across the sites but, primarily, that in the base site is both simple and straightforward – and allows very quick access to the sites and the data. Try to find data for your own specialism through the main Topic List and let me know of any failures!

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 9 March 2004 at 08.30 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