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.

It is now some 18 months since I had a large moan about the state of the GSS and ONS web sites (http://www.statistics.gov.uk) and (http://www.ons.gov.uk) . The Internet world is changing rapidly and, though these two sites have not been slow to respond, some major developments have taken place. The removal of the splash page and the reduction of graphics on the ONS site has improved access speeds very significantly to match the fast access already available on the GSS site.

So what does each site offer? And is this easy to use? The GSS site has crafted two sets of headings, basically for general users and for business and press users. Whatever order of the headings was used, I am sure one could argue that some other order was better. My personal preference would be to have ‘UK in Figures’ at the top.

I mused a little and wondered how anyone looking for UK statistics would find them. I then plugged ‘statistics’ and ‘UK’ into the Alta vista … and found the number one site was … (out of date) information on access statistics to a Weddings site! Only one of the first 10 entries was for any (actually, ONS) statistics. So I refined my search by adding the word ‘government’, lost the ONS statistics reference but found two local government financial statistics references, one of which was very out of date. ‘Statbase’ produces better references if one can ignore the top three (two UN references and one Russian): two were direct references to ONS.

Press notice information is now very easy to get hold of with some, though not much, advance notice. The search facilities on this part of the site are very useful. In other areas, like the contact information, some further structuring of the information would be helpful to the user.

A major benefit of this new design is a clear and exceptionally quick path to StatBase. The response is quick to the main page and the searching for information is far better now. Statstore now has 685 datasets: this is a vast improvement on 18 months ago but we in the GSS should not get complacent – much more can be achieved.

On the GSS site the simpler face is again quick to download. I followed the Time Zone links and found a phrase ‘starts today, 29 July 1999’ on the page, together with information about the forthcoming ISI conference in August. The message for all of us from this is that we should be careful in drafting for the web and ask how it will read in two months time: further, the updating policy should be carefully thought through. The StatBase heading has now disappeared from the main page and appears only in the navigation bar: many new visitors, if they find the site, will not know what that is.

Press releases on this site just take you to the ONS list: where are the other GSS releases? When National Statistics is launched this part will need significant improvement.

Figures? Well, apart from StatBase, the UK in Figures 1999 is available providing some summary data for a general enquirer. But is this enough for a casual user who does not want to tackle StatBase? My views have been published in this column before: can I have views and suggestions .. by 20 October please.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 1 October at 15.30 using a high speed access line (via Super JANet) on a 266 Mhz Pentium II machine.

Suggestions of interesting sites or interesting features found at statistical sites should be sent to me at

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

or by snail mail to National Assembly for Wales, Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NQ.

... Happy (statistics) surfing ….