Surfing to … Switzerland

Wales, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is having more snow than usual at this time of year. As I look from my desk to the snow covered hills, my mind wanders to the great peaks of white in Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Statistics Office provides a web site in four languages at http://www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/portal/en/index.html : English, German, Italian and French. The Home page presentation is just longer than one screen depth, possibly because, on my visit, there was a special link to the 150th    anniversary of the office. Generally the layout is clear apart from the tag cloud in the middle of the page just below the top navigation. When moving the mouse over the tag cloud to a word of interest, the whole cloud moves and it is difficult for the user to catch the tag of interest: further, all of the links are not shown at any one time. I found GDP here and followed the ‘GDP per inhabitant’ link, then the hyperlinked words ‘Gross Domestic Product’: the table presented gave a mix of left and right justified data with an apostrophe as the thousands separator. At the bottom of the three tables, I followed the Excel link to a version of the table using a comma as the thousands separator. At the bottom of the table was contact information – but the end of the e-mail address was hidden. Back to the tag cloud and I read below this that the availability of information in English is the minimum offering with more in French or German.

Following the normal investigation route for data on a site, I found the population easily enough through the theme list to the left-hand side of the Home page: the ‘key figures’ gave me a table which included the whole resident population – with no thousands separator! Following Population from the blue underlined hyperlinked theme names, the user is given a plain black text list with two red headings (actually linked words). The black text is indeed hyperlinked. For the user, such a use of plain black text as hyperlinks is confusing.

I went back to the themes on the Home page to find the CPI. Prices looked like the right theme: and the centre of the page changed to provide information on prices. The graphic on the top left of this section is has a tool tip that notes that it leads to the IPC in German language: but it is not hyperlinked to anything. The text underneath the graphic told me I could have the data in French, German or Italian – but not English! Choosing French, the same diagram appears – and is hyperlinked to the CPI. The table presented provides the CPI data on EIGHT different index bases back to 1914.

Back to the English Home page, I noticed a Statistical Encyclopaedia link on the right-hand navigation. Sadly, this was available only in German or French. I followed the French route and sought information on road accidents of cyclists. The enquiry page is easy to use and needs only partial information to proceed to a search. Many tables were offered: the first ‘Accidents by mode of transport’ was in Excel: separate information for cyclists was not shown – but the data indicated that it was much safer to travel by rail than by road.

Also on the right-hand navigation is a link to Maps and Atlases. This provides a wealth of statistical information presented on maps which are all downloadable. On the French version of the site some additional interactive tables and charts are available. Even in French, tables on agriculture were presented in English (using what appeared to be Beyond 20-20).

Overall, this site offers the user a wealth of information even in English. The main metadata and the richness of data and presentation are in either German or French. Google offers translations for most HTML pages but this does not extend to tables in Excel nor to the interactive charts and maps. Some consistency of presentation needs to be addressed and some additional thought to navigation typeface colours.

Happy surfing … and happy Christmas to all readers.

This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 30 November 2010 at 16.00 hrs GMT using a 20 Mb link to the Internet on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz machine.

This and reviews since January 2009 are published in the blog; earlier reviews are published to my website, http://www.surfingwithed.org.uk 

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3 Responses to Surfing to … Switzerland

  1. Actually, I should have signed with my actual name…

    Best regards,

    Alain Nadeau
    FSO

  2. Hello Ed,

    It’s not every day that an observer as dedicated as yourself takes time to examine our Portal in such details. This can be either a gratifying experience or an invitation to a thick slice of humble pie!

    But ultimately we fare rather well. We have already corrected the silly mistakes and little bugs. This said, and as much as we would like to respond positively to your main criticism (the importance given to our English pages), there is little chance in the near future to do more than what we are currently offering. With our limited manpower we have to give priority to our German and French pages, with Italian (our third national language) as a third priority. But we offer more every year.

    Your comments on our Statistical Encyclopedia have at least made me realize that we currently have enough English objects in it (about 5% of the whole), that a public version should be made available. It will only cover a small part of the German and French versions, but at least some major topics will be adequately covered (employment and income, economy, industry and services, transportation, a few others). We should be able to launch this early next year.

    Otherwise, you are right: the agriculture data are offered using Beyond 20/20 (to be migrated to our brand new PX-Web application in 2011).

    In closing, thank you very much indeed for the time you took in looking at our Portal. We sincerely appreciated your comments.

    Best regards,

    SFSO Web Team
    serviceweb@bfs.admin.ch

    PS: Yes indeed, it is much safer to travel by train than by road! Not only in Switzerland but everywhere else, I should think!

    PPS: Armin Grossenbacher send his warm regards!

  3. Katja says:

    That is indeed a funny tag cloud, I’ve never seen one like this before. Maybe the idea behind it si to show many available topics for a first time user? For regular users it’s probably just funny 🙂

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