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.
Another visit to Asia for this months review, to the site of the National Statistical Office of Thailand (http://www.nso.go.th/eng/index.htm ). The home page was effective and simple with an added bonus of e-mail links for further information on each of the main headings. The downside was the size of the picture and the revolving text for the Agricultural Census which were a little distracting and the use of blue text for some headings that were not hyperlinked. Access speed, unlike last month, was acceptable for the main pages though on some sections of the yearbook the whole chapter of population tables had to be downloaded and took several minutes (72 pages, 2.2 Mb without advice as to file size).
The yearbook tables are bilingual and easy to access through the bookmarking within the PDF file. However the tables in Excel format are hidden in an annex to the PDF presentation: this is not easy for the user to find. I had some difficulty downloading the Excel tables it was noted that they were locked for editing by the NSO but I did get a read only copy very quickly. All 44 tables of the Population chapter are in one workbook: some additional navigation pages could reduce the download times even further and give the enquirer just what they want. Perhaps it is a rigid presentation of the book format on the Internet that is a constraint: use of sans serif typefaces in the text, as used in the tables, would be helpful for the Internet version. The Key Statistics publication is almost 4 Mb - too long for a quick reference (taking around 15 minutes to download, even with my fast Internet connection) and, again, the Excel version is accessed through an appendix. The Excel version really needs to be split out so that the user can choose this version from the beginning and be selective about what is downloaded. The PDF version has a variety of page sizes and comprises 125 pages not quite a set of key figures. Much less data and more appropriate charts would aid the causal user particularly as the detailed reference data is available in the yearbook.
In some of the tables, I found numbers in columns centred and in a serif typeface. Readability could be improved by switching to a sans-serif throughout. On the positive side, this site is much more helpful to the visually impaired with all text on the home page being adjustable through the view/text size/largest option. Try your own site and see how fixed your presentation is.
The About NSO link from the home page is not linked intuitively: it goes straight to the first of the pages available in this section but adds some extra options in the top navigation. The first page should be much more intuitive and set out a small summary of the office and the various options for further information within the page. All senior staff can be contacted through the provided e-mail addresses or telephone numbers.
I was impressed with information on training within the organisation until I looked at the dates within the information: some information was up to 1997, other courses 2002. These pages are in desperate need of revision or removal from the site.
Going to Report and Publication to see what is available, I was delighted to find that the information on publications took account of the possible foreign purchases and gave postage rates for different areas. All publication did not only have the number produced but also the number remaining in stock. The Order form is however not directly linked but is a MS Word document: this has to be mailed with a bank draft to the NSO. I trust soon that the e-shop will all be linked with shopping carts and the option to pay by credit card.
Reviewing this site has refreshed a few of the key principles of maintaining a statistical web site: data and information presentation, revision of information, manageable (and identified) file sizes for downloads and the structuring of publications for web use (taking advantage of the possibilities for improvement through e-publication).
This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 1 May at 14.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium III 866 MHz machine.
Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to Ed.Swires-Hennessy@lgdu-wales.gov.uk