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.

 

Some while ago I provided some advice on web site development to the Central Statistics Office of Ireland and so believe it is time to undertake a review of the results. Their site (http://www.cso.ie) is very quick to load and navigate. A little of the site appears to be available in Gaelic (mainly the Student’s corner at the moment) though the pages do not have a direct link from page to page, always returning to the home page: this is not too helpful even for language learners who could switch from individual page to page to check meaning.

 

Design

 

The home page is of fixed width and a little too long. The site would not meet the criteria for the visually impaired as all of the text sizes on the home page are hard-coded and do not allow enlargement though the graphics do have tool-tips. Further into the site it is possible to alter the text size through in-page links, though the largest available does not match that generally available on standard browsers: this may be to preserve the presentation of data tables in an acceptable format. Some pages deep in the site do react, however, to the use of the view/text size/largest option (e.g. the census tables page in the database section).

 

The colour scheme is very pleasant to the eye and easy to read.

 

The pages shown by following the top navigation are also generally a little too long: small changes here could get the whole page visible without scrolling – a worthwhile aim. Obviously when going further into the site with tables and charts, scrolling is more acceptable to the user.

 

Navigation

 

The navigation is easy to follow and provides a thread line to indicate where one is within the site. At the time of writing, the colour scheme for links was not followed completely within the student’s corner in either language but particularly in Gaelic. When moving around the site using the top navigation, the colour of the link button changes; using the back button does not change this to show the user’s position clearly.

 

Though the navigation on the home page is clear, once within the site it is less than clear. The thread is actually hyperlinked and can take the user to the relevant part of the site – but it is coloured as non-hyperlinked text – providing for confusion. The page ‘Census 2006 Schools activities’ has three different colours for links – apart from the top navigation.

 

Data formatting

 

Tables in the Statistics section are clear though inconsistency is apparent on where to put totals of rows: in population tables the totals are to the left of rows, in other areas totals are to the right (the preferred option, as the general public are taught in primary schools, is to put totals to the right!). Each table of data has a print page icon (that is not hyperlinked!) next to the words ‘Print Page’ (which is hyperlinked).

 

The Database Direct leads the more expert user through a series of screen to a list of essentially data cubes – and a selection panel for each of the dimensions. This was intuitive and easy to use. Tables produced can then be printed, copied to Excel, or saved in one of ten formats! The user can also pivot the table, do calculations on it and simply produce a variety of charts.

 

Other

 

The site includes much about the organisation and the responsibilities of the various people – but no direct link to individuals by e-mail or telephone. The assumption about the which office the staff are in has to be that they are all in Cork – as that is the address at the foot of each page: but there is another office in Dublin. On the Contact Us page it is stated that you may e-mail a member of staff if you know their name so it would be just a nice touch to hyperlink the names on the organisation chart to e-mail. Where files were available, it was pleasing to see both the format and the size indicated (though a marginal presentation inconsistency with some having both format and size in red and some with format in red and size in blue). Following some of the publications links, it was clear that size was thought through with some electronic publications both available as an entity and as separate smaller parts.

 

Overall

 

The site was easy to use and is still in development: some small effort in consistency improvement and in sizing pages would make it one of the best.

 

The main messages for my readers from this site are, first, that constraining introduction and navigation pages to one screen depth is optimal; second, that writing the standards for a colour scheme is important and needs to be followed by all working on the site and, third, that quality control is key to an excellent site.

 

This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.0 on 4 September 2006 at 10.00 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