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.

 

On return from holidays I trust all readers are fully refreshed. For your holidays, I assume a good proportion of you either booked on-line, identified areas to visit on-line or just found out general information about the destination (weather, tourist sites, travel options etc.). But how many of you really appreciated some user-feature of the sites you visited? Reflect for a moment – and let me have useful ideas (preferably with the web site addresses so I can look for myself!).

 

This month I visited the web site of the National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria  (http://www.nsi.bg/Index_e.htm) – a site I had been told was much improved since I last reported on it (February 2000). The home page appears crisp and quickly loaded. The header uses very parsimonious graphics in the heading with actual text for the words (whole header around 4k bytes). The navigation on this home page is unusual in that it is the black text that is hyperlinked in the body of the page and the white (or yellow) writing in the top navigation. This immediately causes conflict as a date given in bold black for a press conference was not hyperlinked (though similar text for Eurointegration, Census 2001 etc was hyperlinked).

 

Looking first to find out about the NSI, I followed the first of the English links on the top navigation. The crisp look and feel disappeared (and the Bulgarian version looks even worse!) with a simple change of typeface. Within the whole section there are positive features: the organisation chart does give some contact information for the senior staff, including telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, as well as summary enquiry contact information. The top navigation is lost from this level and the bottom navigation that appears on these pages – but not on the top page - is different from the top navigation on the home page. Putting the header on all pages easily allows a link back to the home page via the logos.

 

The Publications link provides a good summary of what is available with more detail for the prospective purchaser, including cost and postal address and e-mail of the publications centre. The list would be easier for the user if either grouped into general, economic, social or, as a minimum, sorted alphabetically (they may of course be sorted in the Bulgarian version).

 

Looking briefly at the links, I notice that within the Europe links, the TES Institute is still listed – though the organisation stopped providing training over two years ago. Also, a small slip with the translation has ‘Australia’ as one of the continents instead of ‘Australasia’: listing New Zealand under this heading could be considered insensitive. Within the UK, a listing appears for CCTA – which no longer exists.

 

The statistical themes are listed on the left hand navigation within the home page – again not sorted in order within the two sections. Going first to Prices, then Consumer Prices, it is easy for the user to get the most recent data and to access the related methodology papers. Historical data was also provided. The office has obviously changed the standards for the presentation of data since the first Consumer Price Index publishing shown (1990) as these early data use a comma as a decimal separator whereas the most recent data use a full stop.

 

Onto population and the first link easily provides not only the top-line figure but also a little commentary on the subject including interesting data. The standards for presentation are a little lax here with urban / rural split of the population given to one decimal place of thousands and the life expectancy quoted as 72.37 years, a little too precise for the average user.

 

The site uses fixes tables and pages but works very quickly and provides the average user with the information required in a suitable way. As with most of those countries in transition, the next stage of development is to provide a data warehouse that will allow dicing and slicing from large cubes of data. Some attention to detail will improve the site even further. I wonder whether there is a written standard for the Internet design: this, if properly adhered to, will eradicate many of the issues on presentation. Links on sites need to be checked and updated regularly!

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 5.50 on 31 August at 16.00 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 

 

For those in the UK Government Statistical Service, please let me have your views on how to improve STATnet - it's under review from July!