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.

 

This month I report on the massive change in philosophy and the vast improvement in access to what was one of my most despised sites – Eurostat, found through the link http://europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat/, though this brings a page URL which is too long! Thought should be given to an abbreviated URL like www.eurostat.int.

My last review in May 2000 was not too complimentary: too many graphics (producing slow opening), too much data with costs attached and poor navigation. Now the home page is quickly accessed, not too cluttered and provides access to statistics and electronic versions of publications.

The home page organisation neatly fitted onto my screen with a clear division between the fixed part of the navigation and the ‘latest’ announcements. Even the ‘latest’ part was split neatly into three sections, listing one product, three news releases and three titles from Eurostat news. I dived straight in for some data: population was my first selection. The hierarchical selection was easy to navigate and, when I thought I had arrived at the table I wanted, I was faced with a selection of variables and values for my table. This is real customer service! A little disappointment crept in because the data in the table generated was all left aligned, a presentation repeated with my other investigations in the database, household broadband access and unemployment (all in HTML format). I tried downloading some of the data in CSV format – but, either directly or indirectly into Excel, the download only gave entries in the first column of the spreadsheet.   Investigating the pre-prepared tables produced much neater tables with appropriate justification.

The highlighted publication on the home page was Yearbook – the edition that does not show Wales in its position to the left of England! The surprise to me was that this publication was available in its complete electronic form suitably presented by chapter for speedier downloading. The population chapter was delivered in around 10 seconds in PDF format: fine for the text or extracting the odd figure. But the real plus here is that all of the data tables – maintained up-to-date – are available: first follow the link to the PDF version and there appears on the left-hand side some additional navigation – the last line of which is a link to the data!

The many other sections of the site are easy to reach and informative, providing much data detail as well as the overview information.

Problems encountered with the site are:

1.       the navigation through some of the hierarchical tables structures: collapsing the hierarchy does not appear to work at the top level (opening demography and then trying to collapse back to the overall theme did not work);

2.       the site opens many new windows which, after several investigations can leave many open;

3.       data presentation in self-generated tables is not as good as with the prepared tables;

4.       data downloaded into CSV files does not load directly into MS Excel;

5.       the inclusion of note indicators in cells of a table loses the basic comparison across data in the column.

But, overall, this is a much more user-friendly and service providing version of the site than at the last review. Congratulations to the designers – and keep up the good work!

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.60 on 11 October at 11.00 hrs GMT using a 2 Mbit link to the Internet on a Pentium M 1.6 GHz machine.

Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to

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