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.

I am often asked for references to sites that I consider to be in the lead as far as dissemination is concerned. The Statistics Canada site is usually one I would recommend (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/). The entry is to a splash page for language choice – which is not stored via a cookie. The Home page is fixed width and in a similar format as it has been for some time: being over two screens full in depth means that much information is not instantly visible. Yet the subject listing of statistics – with 31 entries – can also be accessed from the third entry on the left-hand navigation. Visible on the Home page is the day’s releases together with four key statistics, and links to their most recent press release, and a good range of links.

Within the left-hand navigation, the links are just in plain black text as the text parts of the news releases (which are not linked). The top navigation is white text on a black background and within the rest, blue underlined text. Statistics by subject is linked from the black text on the Home page whereas the links to the same places from the ‘By subject’ page is blue text, not underlined. Choosing summary tables from the left hand navigation, one has another set of navigation: choosing Tables by Subject produces the same subject list but now in blue underlined text! Consistency within a site is easier and quicker for the user.

The two key statistics, population and inflation are both on the main page and thus easy to find. Each of these statistics has a link to the latest information on the topic.

Most of the publications available directly from the site in either HTML or PDF format have to be paid for. However, much information that would be required by the average user is freely available through the Find Statistics list of links on the Home page. For the above average user, much metadata is available through the Definitions, data sources and methods link on the left hand navigation. This metadata is clearly structured and well resourced thus providing both general information (e.g. on classifications) and specific information (e.g. about a specific survey or a form). Some additional structuring of the delivery of the information on forms would assist the user: looking at the Machinery and equipment forms in the Construction subject, I had 10 screens full of links. Surely this would be better if delivered as the ‘Current’ forms and ‘Earlier forms’ with the latter split by years.

At times around the site, the user is taken back to the earlier version of the site with the fixed width page to the left of the screen and a different top navigation list.

The site appears to be in the middle of an overhaul (see previous paragraph) but some more fundamental and consistent changes are still required. Despite this, the site offers users a great deal of free up-to-date and relevant information with more detailed information available for a charge. The structure of the metadata is clear and uses the power of the Internet to provide deeper links for the experts. Take a look and …

..   Happy surfing …

 

This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 5 June 2009 15.00 hrs GMT using a 20 Mb link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

The views expressed in the review are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.

 

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

esh@dataunitwales.gov.uk