Australia

From cold and wet Wales this month to the warm climes of Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) at http://www.abs.gov.au/ has long been an organisation devoting much attention to the dissemination of its statistics. The Home page is two screens deep with the first visible part dominated by a ticker and a large advert for user consultation on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The way the ticker has been presented removes all bar one of my previous arguments against such presentations – allowing the user to halt the ticker, see the previous or next item or, indeed, all items. The one not dealt with is the appearance letter by letter: bring the whole sentence in at once, as we can read quicker than currently presented.

The navigation is complex and in four different colours with three different appearances on roll-over! The left-hand navigation in black can be confused with the headings which are also in black. The most obvious graphic in this presentation in the central panel – for the user consultation on the CPI with the works ‘CPI Review – have your say’ is not hyperlinked! Such an invitation but part wasted. A similar graphic on the right-hand navigation is hyperlinked. One good feature for new users is the ‘First visit?’ link which is trying to give information on the site and the services offered by ABS. This page seeks to be user-friendly and asks for feedback on how this page could be improved.

Both of the two test statistics are listed in the left-hand navigation, population and CPI: a population clock was also the top graphic on the right-hand side navigation. Following either of the population links brings up a page with the key population change items together with links to the many different analyses of population available.  I chose to look at the births information: the result was three main headings with topics covered in each. The topics were ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS AS WAS THE EXPANDED CONTENTS. The designers have obviously not read the literature on the speed reading of text and how putting words in capital letters slows our reading significantly! The Births page does not use the term ‘data’ or ‘statistics’: the data cubes were found in the tab ‘Downloads’ which, admittedly, also contained a link to a publication download.

The data cubes can be downloaded in Excel or ZIP format – the choice usually being determined by the size of file – but that is not given visibly until one hovers over the two icons! The resulting cubes are well-presented with a contents page and hyperlinks to the individual tables and have footnote markers in the cells which do not affect the alignment of the data.

The CPI link produces a summary that is more technical and starts with a table and two charts. Scrolling down one can get to the other information, such as the key points in written form! It is strange that the Summary page contains dates for the next four releases of the CPI but the tab ‘Past and Future Releases’ only shows one.  However, the mode of presentation with tabs indicating ‘Downloads’, ‘Explanatory Notes’, ‘Related information’ and ‘Past and Future Releases’ would lead me to move this site into the Top 5 of sites I would want to emulate in design terms.

Having found my two data items, I surfed the rest of the site. What a gold mine! The ‘Understanding statistics’ link on the left-hand navigation reveals a marvellous range of information for the user, from basic statistical language, through specialised pages for a vast range of different professions to three modules of a university course giving an introduction to statistics.

User can enter a ‘subscription’ to a particular set of statistics or a theme and receive e-mail alerts when more of that genre is published. From the top navigation, ‘Methods and Standards’ led to quality statements, standards and classification information and reams of research papers. The ‘Themes’ link shows the taxonomy of the information, within 5 main groups – a simple way to the data required.

The site search is very effective and efficient with relevant responses delivered speedily.

This site has changed greatly since my last visit and will offer a challenge to all reviewing their sites in terms of organisation and content.

Happy surfing …

This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 5 February 2010 at 19.30 hrs GMT using a 20 Mb link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

The views expressed in the review are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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