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.

Already thinking of Christmas, I ventured North to Finland where the application to the Internet task has been very enthusiastic from the beginning, even venturing to provide a WAP service as an experiment (now withdrawn). To date I have not visited the Statistics Finland site (http://www.stat.fi/index_en.html) to undertake a review but I know all visitors will find quite a few ideas here to improve the visual appearance of their site. The striking feature of the home page is its simplicity: uncluttered, few words but all the necessary keys which then enable the visitor to appreciate quickly where to go.

Navigation on the English home page is confusing to the casual user as three different kinds of links appear (underlined textual hyperlinks, non-underlined textual hyperlinks and graphic hyperlinks (some with rollover variations). Perhaps development is underway to make the links consistently simple. The active graphic for international statistics is irritating though entering the area opens a vast array of international data in an easy to use format. Adding cell notes appears to have caused inconsistencies with the formatting of data: the same problem occurs in the Finnish version. The home pages in Finnish and English are well laid out, appealing, not crowded, without too much clutter and indeed, on my first visit to the site a few days ago, the Finnish version of the home page followed one of my good design ideas – all information on just one visible screen: that has been expanded a little. Nevertheless, tidying of the linking design would make this site even better. More options are available on the Finnish version of the home page than on the English version. Switching languages from the English home page to Finnish produces a different Finnish home page!

Finland in Figures is available in 5 languages and provides a good range of interesting data in HTML tables – but with links to Excel versions. Try ordering a paper copy of the booklet via the link on the main page and you finish up with a Finnish page! Other figures are available in StatFin, which returns information in tables via the same output system as that used in the Netherlands. The link to notes in such tables is through hyperlinked (but not underlined) red text that becomes underlined on a rollover. The blue text used in the Dutch system is slightly nearer what one would expect to be a hyperlink. The tables are easy to manipulate and can even be transformed across appropriate axes to nest the data in the way one wants. Try choosing ‘Population Census’ from the left-hand menu and then selecting the table ‘Population structure, 1950-2000’: the light grey dimension definitions can be moved within the table header to change the structure (the cursor changes to a four-direction arrow when hovering over these cells). The StatFin catalogue takes a noticeable time to load – and, presumably, will become slower as the availability of products expands. Using the ‘Statistics Finland’ graphic in the top left of this page returns the user to the Finnish version of the home page.

Only three press releases were visible on the home page, though one can link to all press notices available via the heading: this link takes the user to a date ordered list of press notices which is totally unstructured and sixteen screens in length! This is an area that requires some attention.

WebStat allows the user to search for statistics through known sources, not just within the output of Statistics Finland and provides a direct web link to the statistics and the organisation producing them. I chose ‘population Helsinki’ in my search and found 16 pages of references. Even though all of the descriptions were in English, some of the reference material was only available in Finnish – but this was noted within the reference material.

Contact information is clearly laid out both for general enquiries and for subject enquiries: a very helpful set. A map of how to find the office and other useful background information is in the ‘In a nutshell’ section – which may be too well hidden in the top left-hand area. Following ‘News releases’ in this area only takes the user to news of the website – an anomalous heading therefore.

This site is much better than the average NSI site in both the organisation and the availability of data. The bilingual nature of the site needs more careful handling and the structuring of lists of information would improve access and download times. Better standards of navigation philosophy would help the user. WebStat is an encouragement for all to organise effective access to statistics on the web.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 5 November at 16.00 hrs GMT using a 256 Kbit 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