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.

Having just returned from a very pleasant – but too short – holiday in Italy, I tried to investigate the English version of the Italian National Institute of Statistics’ site ( I tried my standard approach of finding the population but came to a dead end – as I did when I tried many of the other demographic links. The ‘Demography in Figures’ part of the site is still awaited in English and bears no resemblance to the main part of the site. So I gave up and went to Singapore ( that I last reviewed in July 2001.

The home page has clear messages for the up-to-date statistics though too many of them to neatly fit onto one screen. The navigation on this page is much less clear: on investigation, the navigation text is found to be not direct text but GIF images. The navigation to the top right of the page has bullet points – but these are not part of the change in colour for the rollover. The changing image has only five elements and is better than a simple scroll as it allows more time for reading before changing to the next item – but it is still distracting. At the time of visiting, one of the panels was displayed in a fixed image just below the changing image – but with a slightly different text!

A drop-down menu for ‘Quick Access’ repeats the navigation listing to the top right of the home page – with the exception of ‘What’s New’. Abbreviating this list by taking out the sub-parts of the menu, reconstituting them in roll-over menus, will enable the drop list to avoid the necessity of using the scroll bar.

Data are presented in well formatted and easy-to-access PDF files: the disadvantage is that users cannot then take the data in an easy form for either additional calculations or reformatting without retyping. The statistical charts accessible through the KeyStats link are generally neatly presented (I found one unnecessary three-dimensional chart and one that was very difficult to read) but could be improved by the inclusion of gridlines, enabling easier interpretation. A useful glossary is being developed but it will be necessary to impose strict presentation of hyperlinked text (in the Economic glossary both black and blue underlined text were hyperlinks).

The link to e-forms does provide a useful link for respondents and others interested in the data collection or definition process: the page is nearly four screens long and could be more useful if it employed a subject based hierarchy and some alphabetic ordering in the elements. For those who provide information to the Department of Statistics, a companion service is e-survey where respondents can complete forms on-line.

Anyone can subscribe to press releases by completing a simple e-form and sending it electronically. However, limitations on the use of the information mean that the data cannot be reused in reports without prior permission. Access to the time series databases is also by registration but costs both to register and for each series downloaded.

Too many of the links open new windows from which one cannot use the back button: I finished up with 10 different windows open at the end of the investigation – having closed some on the way through!

The site includes a website review: a survey report in this highlights the most important features of a website to be ‘Ease of Use and Navigation’ and ‘Fast download times’. Overall this site could improve on the former but the speed of downloads is most acceptable. The overall design concepts are very good and, with a little tweaking around the edges, could become excellent.

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.60 on 3 September at 14.00 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