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.

Still in holiday mood, I saw the sun symbol over Rome (contrasting with the dark clouds of rain over Wales!) and set off this morning to visit Istat, the Italian National Institute of Statistics whose site is found at http://petra.istat.it/ . It opens with a simple screen offering a basic explanation of the site in Italian and English, with the English description noting the possibility of some material being available only in Italian. The loading of this first page, dominated by one relatively small graphic (18 Kb), took 20 seconds – most of the time spent waiting for the graphics. The size of the graphics should not have been the reason for the slow response which was proved later. The English message noted that information on job opportunities could be found on the site (these were only in Italian!)

The first heading is an explanation of Istat. This produced another summary list of items which are all brief and to the point. The list also had a heading for ‘Conferences and seminars’ which had many out of date items: these could be replaced with brief notes about the events which had information on where fuller details of, or web copies of, available papers and proceedings.

Choosing English takes one to a very well designed screen which is split into permanent topics and news items. Again the graphics, though very small in size, were very slow to load.

My first thrust into the figures was into the ‘Italy in Figures’ heading. This is available only in PDF format and is 27 pages long: it took almost 10 minutes to download! Were I not writing a review, I would have had to be desperate and certain to get a figure I needed from here to continue to wait that long. From a user’s point of view it would be preferable (unless the download speed can be vastly increased) to impose a second screen of the various chapter headings or pages titles thus downloading only a small proportion: or at least give an idea of the file size to be downloaded. But when downloaded and viewed it became well worth the wait. The format of the pages made for easy understanding by the general reader with significant effort having been expended to present data in a meaningful way. My only, minor, criticisms are in the use of three-dimensional pie charts and in the occasional use of too many colours. Under the same heading one can get an overall summary of the ‘State of the nation’, poorly titled Report synthesis’ in English covering everything from the economy to the number of foreigners in Italy.

Following the link from ‘Statistics on the Web’, I wandered into the Bank of Italy site which provided statistics in English. Response times were much quicker indicating that the delay on the Istat site was not due to poor access to Rome.

One main item concerns SISTAN the Italian National Statistical system. This sets the framework, legal and general, for the collection and publication of the statistics. Products and services sets out the rational for the publications and what else is available.

The latest released data is found under the Press Releases and Publications heading. In English only the basic data and meta-information is given – with fuller information in the Italian version of the release. The statistical calendar is now kept up-to-date and shows release dates up to six months ahead. The aspiration is to get the latest press release available on the web site by 10 a.m. on the day of release. The first heading here is entitled Taking statistics to the people which sets out the rationale for issuing data to the media and the ways communication is achieved.

Navigation throughout the site is excellent using simple hyperlinks with minimal graphics. The balance seems to be correct for a general user between meta-information and actual data.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 4.72 on 25 August at 08.30 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.

P.S. The data available through Statbase on the GSS site continues to expand: have you tried it recently? Have you checked you meta-information? Access to Statbase is through the GSS web site (http://statistics.gov.uk)?

... Happy (statistics) surfing ….