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.

Back to Africa this month and a retrial of the National Statistics Office of Malawi site. Since my last attempts to access this web site for the June review, a transformation in access speeds has occurred. The front page of the site, http://www.nso.malawi.net loads as if the server is in the next room! The site is wholly in English with an elegantly simple opening page which contains the relevant information to the enquirer. The use of the side navigation aids the simplicity and makes site navigation easy from anywhere. Within the site, it is unusual to use the same blue for titles and hyperlinks, the only difference being underlining.

The page titles have not been modified from the originating program's 'Default' which is, by default, hindering the search engines' ability to find and address specific pages.

The site looks and feels like it has had one designer throughout with similar text size and very sensible - and visible - hyperlinking. It is obvious the site is still being developed and the aspiration of the editor(s) is apparent by some parts of lists that are not yet linked. The pages spread to the screen size and the only minor criticism in this part is the amount of space left at the foot of pages, below the navigation.

From the home page, the simple (non-graphic) button 'Latest' leads to a list of electronically available information: the original concept was to put all in a categorised list - but the list is now too long that the need for extra pages and links is necessary. The next steps need some careful thought as to how to access the archive: much thought now will save heartache (and a lot of work) later! The charts do not appear too well and would probably be better as JPEG files, possibly with a small amount of colour. This may give a small penalty on download time but will be well rewarded by additional clarity.

Tables of data within the site are easy to cut and paste into other applications. The 'Sources' button leads to a list of material available in the Library of the office with a helpful offer of assistance. It looks like a site under development (as mentioned on the home page) - and will no doubt have at least the 'Malawi in Figures' publication on line soon, followed by the Statistical Yearbook.

The site is simple in structure and build - but may offer some insight into how data can be made available. Certainly, the absence of graphics, especially for buttons, is a welcome change: also the clear hyperlinking is easy to follow. The only 'glaring' exception to this praise is the counter graphic on the all pages - pity it is not a static image (like counter.com's).

The site has been live for only about a year and has been put together with very limited resources within the office. It appears to be kept reasonably up to date, September's CPI release being posted already. The key data were last updated in August.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.0 on 1 November at 16.00 hrs GMT using a high speed link through Super JANet on a Pentium II 266 MHz machine.

Do you have any views on what constitutes a 'good' web page? If so please let me have your views as well as Comments and suggestions for sites to review

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

... Happy surfing