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.

 

I began to look at the site of the Swiss Statistics Office (http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/en/index.html ) but found too many elements I did not like - so I shall reserve that for another month. Instead I turned North to Sweden (http://www.scb.se/default____2154.asp), a site last visited for review in June 1998.  The first impression is that the site is tidy, without too much expensive (in download time) material, easy to read and easy to navigate.

 

Design

 

The fixed page looks relatively small on my large 19 inch screen - occupying just over one quarter of the space. I have seen several sites recently that employ these fixed page size designs where the basis for the design is a 800 x 640 default. This size monitor is fast becoming obsolete and the most common now will easily cope with 1024 x 768, which should be the design standard if fixed - but a non-fixed default is even better for the user. The clear delineation of the sections of the home page make for easy use with red headings used in just three places, drawing the user to the specific areas. I am sure many in National Statistical Institute offices would say that the headings are the wrong ones - but the users can determine that by their access. For the casual user, press information, latest key data and an interesting fact are probably effective. Those who require more can easily follow the navigation to that content - so both types of user are catered for.

 

Navigation

 

The in-page navigation follows the brown text, which has a red underlined roll-over. However, the tabs used for the left-hand navigation employ black text with grey on the sub-menus. Below the home page, the SCB logo on the top of pages all appear to be hyperlinked back to the home page. The top navigation is all about finding information: grouping together the different ways users will want to find information (or changing language). And, if you can't find what you want, you can even submit a question! The drop-out sub-menus from the left-hand side tabs are a mix of presentations but the first, and longest, is in alphabetic order and very easy to use. Within the site, a thread is shown which allows the user to navigate part way back through the site. In many areas of the site one can find the use of bullets or other devices (such as micro maps) to indicate different items - but none are linked: this was particularly disappointing in the maps section. Interestingly, the text on the tabs and on the top and bottom navigation do not enlarge by using View/text size/largest - but the rest of the information does.

 

 

Data presentation

 

Standards have always been a watchword in Statistics Sweden and they have an enviable reputation. But even here the home page reveals a slight slip with both a full stop and a comma being used as the decimal separator. The norm in the majority of the English version of the site is the use of a comma as a thousands separator and a full stop as a decimal separator: for the Swedish part of the site a space is used as the thousands separator and a comma as the decimal separator. I followed the link on the unemployment rate through to an Excel table of data where the standards were applied. All charts I came across were well defined and presented, graphs having grid lines and appropriately shown scales. Within the labour market section, I looked at the table of employment by region in 2003 - to find it was presented in Swedish without warning. From the bottom of this very long table, I thought I was going back to the top by using the link Till sidans topp but this gave an HTTP 404 error! But what an HTTP 404 error page - filled with a lot of useful help to get the user back on track - and in English and Swedish.

 

From the second of the left-hand tabs, 'Statistical Database', I chose Maps and was told that more existed but were not yet translated into English. Enough were available to see that non-traditional cloropleths were being used: on population and migration change maps, squares (hopefully proportional to the square root of the change??) of varying sizes represented the data, in blue or red to show positive or negative change, all on green areas. This was quite difficult to interpret on some maps around Stockholm where many areas' data were presented. Data on the changes are available by clicking on the squares.

 

The Statistical Database is well worth a visit to show how the vast range of data can be tamed to provide just what the user requires. It appears to be modelled on PC-Axis, though this is transparent. Choose a data set and the user is presented with choices for all of the dimensions of the data cube. The speed of delivery is very fast - even for these diced and sliced selections: from the database, the formatting reverts to plain numbers and a full stop as a decimal separator (in both languages!).

 

General

 

The site has a wealth of information about the statistics as well as a vast range of statistics. For those who are not familiar with the Journal of Official Statistics produced by the CBS, have a browse under Special Topics/Methodology/Journal of Official Statistics: you will be surprised to find a wide variety of articles - all in English. The bottom navigation takes one to the standard pages of a National Statistical Institute - where it is not too easy to find out who the Director General is. In this part of the site I found the main concern - PDF files of the Annual Report of the Council for Official Statistics which were very large files without being available in smaller chunks: HTML versions would be really useful for the user. Response was very quick even for large tables.

 

Overall

 

This site is a pleasure to use with a vast - but well ordered - range of data and information. If, as the introduction says, the Swedish site has more, it must indeed be a credit to the organisers and the web team.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 9 October 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@dataunitwales.gov.uk