My elder son has just gone to Italy for a honeymoon so I thought I would visit their National Statistical Institute’s web site (http://www.en.istat.it/ ). The site is available in English from this link to a significant depth – even to tables within the databases.
The Home page is longer than one screen depth and centralised within the standard screen. The first difficulty for a use is the identification of hyperlinks: are they white normal or bold text, black normal or bold or red normal or bold? The answer is all of them – but not all of the time! Nothing is more frustrating to the user than irregular use of hyperlinks. The first line of the top navigation is redundant as it duplicates the left-hand navigation.
Nevertheless, if you can ignore these minor irritations, the English version of the site was excellent in more than one way. First, the ease with which one can find data on subjects. My two standard topics are population and consumer price index: the first can be found by going through the theme list towards the bottom of the visible Home page and the second is within the list of economic key indicators on the top right of the Home page. The population link takes the user to the Demography database: this provides an easy way to the information and the user can do selections from the database to summarise to regions or the whole country. Two minor observations here: firstly the data did not include any thousand separators in the table presented, which left me trying to work out where they should be to understand the data (some other population tables I came across later did have the comma as a thousands separator); second, in the municipalities list, province 94 had been ‘changed’ to 1994. Is this over zealous editing? This database page did not have an ‘Istat’ logo linking back to the Home page, so one had to use the ‘Back’ arrow to return through displayed pages to the Home page.
For the economic indicators, one can look at a graph of each indicator separately or the set of indicator graphs. Here I came across my first Italian – in the axis legends. Indeed all of the elements of each indicator are hyperlinked – mainly to the press release.
The second way in which this site is great for the user is the organisation of the linked information system on the quality of the statistical production process – the metadata: this is accessed through a link on the left-hand navigation under the heading ‘Tools’. It is a database of metadata. The glossary can either be accessed via the link under ‘Tools’ or from within the quality database. The glossary is not currently that extensive and not directly hyperlinked to words in press releases (and does have just a couple of explanations not yet translated). However, the quality system has much more than the standard information on statistics, including the relevant legislation, questionnaires, sources of data, summary metadata and even process charts!
For the key economic data on the Home page, each of the press release links, I also noticed the provision of the contact details of the relevant person in Istat: snail-mail address, telephone number and e-mail address.
At various places within the site, the user is given contact details of those responsible for the specific data: an organisation chart – with each area hyperlinked to the relevant contact details – is also provided by following the Organisation link under ‘About us’ on the left-hand navigation.
Overall, this is a site which has set out to provide as much as possible to users, not just the basic data. The organisation is easy to follow and the additional opportunities for the user to summarise and extract parts of tables is worthwhile and easy to use.
Happy surfing …
This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 29 March 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.