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 visited another site in Europe that I have not fully reviewed since the very first article. The English version of the Central Bureau of Statistics of the Netherlands appears now to be a poor reflection of the Dutch version of the site: the main repository of data - STATLINE – only contains a small proportion of the data tables that are available in the Dutch version. Two ways of accessing these data are either by keyword search or by a hierarchical rummage. The first method returns information that looks like a response to an Internet search; the second method allows a Windows Explorer type view of the structure of the classified tables. Either way, one finishes with a table that can be diced and sliced at will – providing the required sub-set of data.


The front page is very simple and uncluttered – and uses the basic Internet convention of underlining words to show hyperlinks! The first menu item on the left is simply ‘Figures’: hovering on that brings up a simple four-line menu, STATLINE being one of the options. Key figures brings a more extensive hierarchical menu of data – replicating the STATLINE menu. Choosing data though this way also delivers a STATLINE table but without the choice of dicing and slicing. The list has some items not yet active – a state they have been in for some time: unless such additions are imminent, these headings should be removed from the list.


The publications link is now as good as I would expect from this site. For two of the three publications one just returns an advert for the book and the online publication ‘The year in figures 2000’ is only available for download as an entity – so looking for a simple table, and explanation, of the basic statistics requires a full download of 650 kB. Care has not been taken in some of the translation with some Dutch appearing on the advertisement for the English version of the National Accounts. (The top of the explorer view of the STATLINE data tables also has a Dutch word ‘Hoofdgroepen’ displayed). Using the ‘Just published’, underlined, link takes one on a circular route through 2 different pages. Similarly does the ‘Webmagazine’ – but this link is not underlined. One of the great contributions to statistical thought has been the Netherlands Official Statistics publication, published in English: the latest version on the web is that for Winter 2000 – without explanation of why other issues are not present (been superseded by the Webmagazine – but without the history clearly shown?). Available articles do not have a publication date so one is left to wonder how new – or old – they are.


Under ‘Press releases’ the four shown in a table on the day I reviewed the site were for the current week: a simple improvement would be to correlate the information in the table with the information in the press releases listed below the table, first by using the same title and secondly by hyperlinking some part of the table (title?) for a direct access to the press release when published. Had five been due out this week, the bottom part of the page would have been hidden – and could have been missed.


The ‘Service’ heading contains much useful information – including one of the best sets of statistical links (though I am not sure why the United Kingdom has been classified as being in Northern rather than Western Europe). Some muddle exists on the Service Desk Respondents: following the Service Desk hyperlink leads to information on Intrastat, the foreign trade database.

Other information available through the Organisation link includes a picture library of the senior staff with their direct e-mail addresses.


Overall this site was disappointing.  I had expected the STATLINE to be a fully operational English copy of that on the Dutch side – as had been promised some years ago. I suppose the English site has had less attention than the Dutch site: however, even the Dutch site has some glitches and inconsistencies.


This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.0 on 5 September at 14.00 hrs GMT using a 256 Kbit link to the Internet on a Pentium III 866 MHz machine.


Please send and comments and suggestions for sites to review to