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.

The end of my summer vacation was taken up with a wedding in Ireland and, as I sat on the almost deserted beaches, I mused about the statistics. But I had to wait for my return to the office before accessing the web site of the Central Statistical Office of Ireland . This site, as with Spain's last month, is struggling with making information available in two languages.

The home page was relatively slow (45 secs.) to download because of the inclusion of more than 20 graphics: 13 are graphic buttons for services available, one of which (Eolas f˙inn) takes you into the Gaelic part of the site. Below the 'service' buttons the four 'latest' features are just hyper-linked text: strangely, one is for statistician vacancies. Another is for 'latest releases' which duplicates the function of one of the buttons 'publications and releases'. A different type of link is given via the picture of a combine harvester to the Census of Agriculture. This mix of links is not helpful to users. Below all these choices was a ticker-tape message bar with many different messages being displayed. (It appeared below the visible screen on the machine used for the review but within the visible screen on my office machine - both 17" screens the former with 800 x 600 and the latter with 1024 x 768 resolution.) I clicked on a message about milk production and was presented with the CSO News page which is a third way to get to the press releases!

Beyond the first page the navigation is mainly via simple hypertext links which are both quick to load and efficient to execute. Navigation is not altogether clear through the site: at the bottom of pages one is usually offered only two choices, neither necessarily being back to the previously viewed page. And the term 'news' is overused: we have 'Recent news', 'CSO news' and 'Whats new'.

Most press and statistical releases on the site are offered in portable document format (PDF files) for viewing though much data is freely available through the 'Principal statistics'. These are unusually split into those from the Central Statistical Office, from other national sources and from international sources. Some minor presentational issues were apparent (imprecise table titles and missing table descriptors). Data for students is given in a separate area and was packed with local information that any secondary or college student would be happy with.

Customer services from the home page lists the dissemination arrangements and general services. Following one of the links (Bloomberg) in the first list leads to a page headed 'Information section' with Bloomberg only appearing two screens down the page. A similar problem occurred for the other links - but the positioning of the page was fine on my normal machine. The customer service plan, basically the mission statement of the office, is well out of date still showing an action plan for 1998-99! A new entry in the general services list, 'Customer Service Enquiry' is not where you request special data but is, in fact, a customer satisfaction questionnaire seeking feedback from users of the site: it is too well hidden and obscurely labelled to elicit much response. This could be highlighted on the front page.

The site suffers from a mix of navigation philosophies and poor overall navigation design. The language switch, noted also in the Spanish site last month, is very apparent. The home page is too long and some of the longer documents would benefit from splitting into individual pages. The 3-month 'advance publishing' calendar was up to July 2000!!

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.01 on 6 September at 16.00 hrs GMT using a 56k dial-up access on a Pentium machine.

Comments and suggestions for sites to review to me, please,

... Happy surfing