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.

As Autumn arrives and the leaves begin to change colour, I can but dream of going off to the warmth of the Caribbean and, to help me in this, I visited the web site of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (http://www.statinja.com/). The home page was generally effective in design simplicity but did have an irritating rotating graphic and a changing set of population headlines. Twelve ‘Latest updates’ included five for different issues of the Consumer Price Index: cutting this to one and reducing the whole number to, say, four would generate more interest and may allow a small redesign of the page to fit into one screen. The use of roll-overs on the map to show key statistics for each of the parishes works well, though the parish names on the map are practically illegible.

Other roll-overs are used on the ‘Latest information’ section: here roll-over brings a chart display of the statistics over a recent period. The charts could be improved by using a sans serif typeface for labels and data – as in the title for the external trade charts. The links in this section are to tables of data on the specified subject. I checked out the Consumer Price Index (CPI) table and found the data in the table to be left justified instead of right. An added difficulty was that I decided to use the link ‘Close this window’ at the foot of the table – which closed the whole browser: I had assumed this table opened in a new window and I was just returning to the home page!

The left-hand navigation on the home page is lost when looking at large tables (like the CPI above) though it is retained when looking at ‘Jamaican Statistics’ from the menu. A minor improvement would be to hyperlink the bullets as well as the words on this navigation. In the ‘Jamaican Statistics’ most of the data in the tables is left justified, though Employment and Production are correctly right justified. For such summary statistics, rounding of various series should be considered: for example, imports and exports could be easily rounded to $billions without loss of meaning.

‘Publications’ leads to a brief summary of the information on offer together with links to further summaries, how to order the book and a link to queries: the ‘how to order’ leads to a form for completion with all products listed giving prices for local purchase and overseas purchase: no credibility checking is done on the form as one can be submitted (receiving a message of thanks) without any contact information on it!  The same order form is reached via the ‘Subscriptions’ on the left-hand menu.

‘Press releases’ takes the user to a single page that has 14 screens’ worth of 12 bulletins, together with an archive. The heading implies there are links to the main series – CPI and External Trade – but the links are not active. Some more though on the structure of the section is needed here.

Three main messages are clear: check all links within sites to make sure they go where you expect; take care over legibility and presentation of information; take advantage of the organisational facilities of the web.

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