Surfing with Ed on the Internet .....

by Ed Swires-Hennessy, Welsh Office

Great news - or is it? On 27 April the GSS site ( http://www.statistics.gov.uk/ ) was launched at the same time as a revamped ONS site ( http://www.ons.gov.uk/ ).

My first experience of the ONS site, however, was not a delight. Using a 486 machine and a modest modem via GTNet at 13.15 on launch day, the first page took 8 minutes to load the futuristic graphic. The second page, essentially a site map, took a further 5 minutes to load - waiting for Java, the frames and the graphic files. My earlier columns have remarked on the speed of entry to sites assisted by the absence of graphics! Supposing it was the time of day and the equipment, I tried on my home (200 MHz Pentium) machine in the evening of launch day: these first two pages both took over two minutes to load.

Putting the access problems behind one, what does the site offer? Not a lot of real up-to-date statistics: those that are there - essentially only UK in Figures - have already been updated and are poorly presented, the translation to Internet tables not having been handled with care. Consistency problems are evident in the text and even the pages on the Census talk of the 1997 Census test as if it’s about to happen. Most of the links on the Census part of the site are too general (taking one to the header page of statistical organisations not to the census pages).

Comments and suggestions for this site can be sent to Daniel Trent ( daniel.trent@ons.gov.uk )

And on to the GSS site ... well the only figures here are those from ... UK in Figures! And these do not even have any help at the foot of the tables to direct one off to the source of further detail (e.g. the source Department sites). The hope is that, when Statbase is launched in the late summer, the main focus for the data will be catered for. But how much will be free? Or easy to find? The answer to the last question lies in the hands of GSS members - and how well the updating of the Guide to Official Statistics is done.

The GSS site has a confused marketing and promotion message with statistical substance: the site name is ‘statistics’ (of which there are few!) but once inside the promotion is ‘the Source’. Both sites as a whole use blue text for both hypertext and non-hypertext - quite confusing to the Internet user.

The GSS site needs your contributions both of data but also of comments and suggestions for change and improvement. It is offering to host for any Department, whether they have a site of their own or not, key releases of data in the ‘What’s new’ area. The contact for this and for any comments about the site, is Marian Cooney
( marian.cooney@ons.gov.uk ). Comments do seem to be genuinely welcome, and by the time you read this, some of mine will already have been acted upon.

Suggestions of interesting sites or interesting features found at statistical sites should be sent to me at Ed.Swires-Hennessy@Wales.gsi.gov.uk or by snail mail to National Assembly for Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NQ.   Happy surfing....