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.

Only one person e-mailed me about the loss of a hyphen between my machine and the published address of last month's article in Status. The proper address is -

http://www.statistik-bund.de/e_home.htm .

From last month's easy to understand, navigate and find information site to one of the slowest, most cluttered and least intelligible - that belonging to Eurostat, found at http://europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat/

The opening page of six graphics took an average of 1.5 minutes to load fully: and as the graphics do not have names moving to the next page is not intuitive, just in case you get the wrong language version! Having chosen English, one proceeds to screen 2. This is over-filled with information and GIFs, some of which have name tags, but most of which are not intelligible to the non-professional. Unlike last month's site, the authors have not helped the user by using structure to help the individual find their way round. The time for a complete download of this page (with its 50 GIFs!!!) varied from 2.5 to 5.5 minutes depending on time of day. There is just too much information on this first main screen which, linked to the very slow response times from the server, hampers any (at least, casual) user.

Despite the slow response times, I did venture deeper into the site: the main pages for Transport, Environment and population loaded in an average of just over a minute. I followed one trail to the database information and then chose to look at the Labour Force Survey: this offered a download of something (without offering a size of file) so I thought I should try. After 8 minutes, a dialog box 'File Download' appeared; this had the appropriate words 'Download time' and 'Transfer rate' but neither were completed. After a further 7 minutes with no change to my screen, I cancelled the download.

Could this have been an odd occurrence? So I tried to open the News Release on green fuel. The release was delivered to my screen in 8 minutes - in a strange format that required both horizontal and vertical scrolling to read. The table in the document gives deliveries of fuel in kg per person in each country - which is most incomprehensible to any ordinary person: why not convert to litres? Again I tried a download of a two page press notice - but failed. This time I had a message 'The requested service is temporarily unavailable. The server currently cannot accept more connections. Please try again later.' So however good the information, there is a delivery problem that needs to be addressed.

A major problem on the data side is the absence of any real thought as to what is being presented and how. From the population indicators, one can identify the population of the Union as 375346459 on 1 January 1999: no comma or space separators and no rounding! Data in tables appear to be centred in columns - which does not aid comparison.

For a major institution which has invested heavily in web dissemination, this is a disappointing site and result. Many of the pages were held up whilst GIF files were downloaded: if I want data on population, I don't want the publications' advertisements. To have a link to a publications area is acceptable: slowing data delivery down is not. If more than the basic data is required, one is directed to the Data shop - at a cost. Simple tables of well thought out, well presented, key information across the EU would not be expensive to provide and would be a service to so many of the 375 million EU people.

Do not visit unless you desperately need information and have plenty of time!

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 3 May at 08.30 using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Comments and suggestions for sites to review to me, please,

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

... Happy surfing