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.
It is four years since I last reviewed the site of the Australian Bureau of Statistics ( http://www.abs.gov.au ) and a lot has happened since! A new design and structure has been launched which, together with the abandonment of charging for basic statistics, has moved this site into the front positions of statistical dissemination.
The overall impression of the site on entry is neat and clean - apart from the cycling headlines! (If headlines are important - they should be shown all at the same time - and there is sufficient room for them all as they are very brief): at least the hovering of a mouse over the headline does allow it to pause from cycling! At the time of writing, the site has a link to the explanation (right hand column of graphics titled 'The web site has evolved') of the major changes in presentation of items - an item missed from many redesigns. Visual balance has been achieved and the use of different colours in the graphics, used for special items, draws the users' attention: care must, however, be given to the length of time each appears or their impact is lost. Consistency in the application of tool tips on these graphics is a must for the visually impaired user - but not applied here. The home page has four different link styles: those on the left-hand side could easily have been in blue to complement the rest of the page. Clarity in separating the statistics into the left-hand navigation and the Bureau meta-information into the top sets of navigation works well.
The major links to the statistics are in sensible headings to the left-hand side. Another route to the data is from the 'Statistics' link on the top navigation. The structure of the site within the main headings allows the user to access the area they require simply and quickly. One of the joys for a non-expert user is that this site provides more than one way to the data! I have already commented on the left-hand navigation and the main statistics link on the top navigation: for those who do not read the news on the site every day, one link in the News and Media section provides a list of updates to the site by day of update. Under the statistics link is a list of the most popular statistics - so the novice does not need to know what kind of statistics consumer prices is part of. I tested the search facility and realised that a thesaurus approach had been employed - again, a useful facility for the novice user. Some of the new site appears not to be finished: using 'Dwellings' in the search returned many entries; I followed number 11, to find the number of dwellings in Lyneham, a statistical local area, only to be presented with the main census page.
To examine the new presentation of statistics, I followed the link to the Consumer Price Index from the list of the most popular statistics. The heading was clear as was the new tab structure. I was sad to see the first information in the form of a table not key points - though that appears later. The use of bookmarks within the page to jump to other parts is a simple use that the technology allows. However, this philosophy has not yet been fully employed throughout the site (more to come?): also, within the Explanatory Notes several references to other documents on the site are not hyperlinked which would make the job of tracking them down a little more difficult - and could lose the novice's place from which they started. Further, no bookmarking was employed here to the various sections - despite the note being 7 screens long.
Data are presented clearly and are well labelled. Graphs do not appear generally to have grid lines and many I found had the vertical scale on the right of the chart with the scale numbers left justified. However a chart within the CPI release did have white grid lines on a white background - which was difficult to see. I had presumed that the charts and graphs would use Scalable Vector Graphics but I could not expand the charts. Within the second tab of each release, the user is given a choice of whether to buy a hard copy of the report, download a copy in PDF format - or access the data in spreadsheet format. For some data, a data cube is available in Super TABLE format: access to a free download of the necessary software is available. For all downloads the site provides the size of the file to the user - and, for some products, also provides a 'preview' description; I use quotes around preview as all one gets is a complete description of the file not a preview of the data.
I only downloaded one spreadsheet but was surprised to find it presented in Courier typeface when the site is so clearly - and correctly - avoiding this.
Using the search facility is easy but the results are given en masse: one good point about the UK's National Statistics search system is that the results of the search are divided into categories of products, assisting the user to find data or descriptions or publications.
The newness of the site is clear in several areas and I am sure over the next weeks some significant tidying will be done. I hope the links between documents will be improved and a greater use of bookmarks and other web-based publishing helps will be expanded.
This review was undertaken using Internet Explorer version 6.0 on 6 March 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