A newly redesigned sit for the statistical office of the Republic of Serbia can be found at http://webrzs.stat.gov.rs/WebSite/. The first time users visit the site, the basic text is Cyrillic and, unlike most other multilingual sites, the language choice is not through choosing links identified by country flags or languages but by a drop down list (top right of the Home page) – which is difficult to understand since the first entry is in Serbian!
The Home page displays three sections on opening: recent press releases, some graphical information and three major links. The press release list is descriptive of the series in the release not of the headlines: this could be improved by noting the one major fact from the release. The graphics in the centre are part of the new data visualisation and certainly are visually more attractive to the user: however, on some, the detail is lost (e.g. the base year on the Earnings and CPI charts). Further, the y-axis has two typefaces, unnecessary emboldening and unnecessary decimal places.
Access to the statistical database is clear from either the graphic on the right hand side of the Home page or through a link below the main portion of the Home page. Once into the database, the user is given a choice of themes and then a list of sub-themes or tables. Having chose a table, the user is then asked to define the view of the table they require form an easy-to-use menu system. This looks like the Internet version of PC-Axis. Fortunately for at least the English language users, the error comments from the system are in English. Having generated a table, the user is able to export it to Excel, XML or PDF files. The only sadness here is that the software always puts the totals to the top and left of the data cells whereas the majority of users were taught in school – and hence expect – to put the totals to the right and bottom!
My example use of the database was for population and the consumer price index is one of the charts available on the Home page. So the standard data checks are easy to fulfil.
From the top menu on the Home page, I went in the one titled ‘Areas’. This takes the user to the themes and, again, I followed population. I was presented with a tabbed section to the right of the page with 5 tabs: New, Data, Publications, Methodology and Description. The tab data returns a useful message that the information is not available in English – but does not say that data are available in the database! The addition of ‘New’ in these tabs is good for the occasional user who can see what has been published in the recent past. The methodology and descriptions are being built up but are sufficient for the casual user.
Back to the Home page and the top navigation button for data. This just gives the latest data on certain key items but does not link to the latest press release for further information! Such a simple step would help the user. This page also highlights another problem in the Serbian statistical office: the inconsistency of presentation of the decimal separator. In the unemployment and prices data shown, a comma is used; in the other data, a full stop is used. This is a simple way to start confusing the causal user. Indeed, only two weeks ago I found a home page of a statistical office’s website with the use of both full stop and comma for a decimal separator; this would have led me to think that the population shown as 7,595 mln means 7.6 billion – roughly all of the world’s population (a full stop was used as a decimal separator in the exchange rate data immediately below the population data).
I looked into the next link on the top navigation – publications. Many of these are presented as PDF documents or CDs – without file sizes being shown. Examining more closely and hovering over a title does produce a tool tip with the file size. Also the ones marked CD are ZIP files that can be downloaded! Within Special Publications, I opened the PDF link to the violent deaths. The title is in English but the only part I found in the publication in English was the preface. Within the document, I did find some three-dimensional diagrams (bar charts and pie charts) as well as some two-dimensional ones. On this two-dimensional space, two-dimensional diagrams are easier for the user to interpret.
This site is obviously improving and the amount available in English is increasing. Determined English-language users can get much information, some easily, some with a little more persistence. Several major flaws: decimal separator inconsistency, poor charting and the language choice on first visiting the site.
Happy surfing …
This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 23 April 2011 at 14.00 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