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.

Much closer to home this month for a visit just across the channel - to France. Official statistics are presented by two main organisations: the INSEE – National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (http://www.insee.fr/en/home/home_page.asp ) and the INED - National institute of Demographic Studies (http://www.ined.fr/englishversion/index.html ).  Both organisations have bilingual French / English sites though the INSEE site deals with the issue more appropriately, admitting that some of the information is only provided in French and indicating such documents differently: this marking is, however, not complete and at lower levels than the home page I was occasionally faced with a French version.

The first point on the INSEE home page is that practically every piece of text is hyperlinked – despite the three different colours employed. At lower levels even black text can be hyperlinked – adding confusion to the user. The three major headings in the centre of the page are actually database links, returning lists of products classified to these headings. Using the link ‘France facts and figures’ returned 791 documents, four of the first 20 being in French. Each of the links takes the user to a brief summary of the document and gives the user an option to download the whole document (with size shown in Kb). My real investigation is for the ‘In brief’ section which, to be fair, is in the list of topics below the major heading on the home page but also on the left-hand navigation when this page is open. The link takes one to an intermediate page – essentially warning that the user is about to download a file of almost 900k: the file is a pure PDF version of the physical publication. The data in the PDF file was very difficult to read – even with an excellent screen and increasing the size to 115%. Why are these tables not available in HTML tables for the user to use the data instead of re-keying?

From the left-hand navigation I went to look at ‘Upcoming events’ which returned a page called both ‘Full Agenda’ in the navigation and ‘Full schedule’ on the page header. Some of the publication dates had passed when I visited the site but the information was static and not hyperlinked to the published document. Following the link from this page to the ‘Main Indicators’ (left-hand navigation), a list of the indicator publication dates for the previous month and the next three is given: however, on the left hand side of the table, some of the entries are in blue – and are hyperlinked to a summary of the last publication of the relevant index. At the top of the indicators page is a note about the 24 pages of information available through a PDF file – without a size indication: it is almost 4 Mb – and because it is in PDF format is practically unusable by the user. What is more, it is very difficult to read, defeating both objects of provision (reading and using data). At the top of the page is a link to the ‘Euro indicators’ in white on red (all text like this is not hyperlinked) that takes the user straight to the Eurostat site.

The best aspect of this site is the availability of short product descriptions before having to download the full documents. Some attention needs to be given to the usefulness of some of the products in their current PDF format and the navigation on the site.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 5 September at 14.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

Ed.Swires-Hennessy@lgdu-wales.gov.uk