Surfing to .. Belgium

It is six years since I last reviewed the website of Statistics Belgium. The first thing one notices is the very long link (http://statbel.fgov.be/en/statistics/figures/ ) to the English Home page; the second is the apology for not having much in English.

The hyperlinks below the top navigation are in either black or red text: the black text changes to red underlined text on roll-over: the thread is in grey and also hyperlinked. Two major sections have all of the hyperlinks in red underlined text. I have commented previously on the use of black for hyperlinks – it does not make the link obvious on the page for the user, though here this can be identified by roll-over. Strangely, the first position in the top navigation is blank – instead of ‘Home’ (the same is true on the French version of the site).

On the day of the review, the Home page contained a press release on tobacco usage in households: the chart had been prepared with a truncated scale thus exaggerating the decline in usage.

I looked into the Key Figures 2011 at the top of the right-hand column. As this link is via a picture, no size of the file is given (it is over 2Mb; in French, it is 22Mb!). Within the booklet, data are centred and three-dimensional pie charts abound! Several chloropleths are included but, at the full-screen view, clarity is very poor. The poorest data presentation in the booklet is of the European GDP figures – with no thought given to rounding of the data (it is presented to 1 decimal place of millions of Euros). Some tables have different rounding of data within the same table – and at least one table has data rounded by Excel – to two decimal places where probably none are required.

The central part of the Home page gives links to the latest press releases. No key data are given on the Home page, but the first pages from the links all carry one or more key facts about the release as well as the link to the full release.

Following the Surveys and Methodology link from the top navigation, produced a very mixed set of links: some did were not active; some linked to metadata about surveys and some linked to the surveys themselves. Some consistency here would be useful to the user – and not showing inactive links. To be fair, on the French language version of the site, the Surveys and Methodology link gives a list of surveys on the left hand side of the page and each of the surveys then links to a page of information about the survey, the questionnaire, the relevant law, metadata and the methodology.

Following the Organisation link from the top navigation (in either English or French) the user is taken to a page where the central part appears to be linked – with chevrons and black text – but isn’t. Other inconsistencies noted are the thousands’ and the decimal separators: some publications use a space, some a full stop for the thousands’ separator; some use a full stop, some a comma for the decimal separator. Novice users can be confused and get the wrong message by such inconsistency.

Maintaining the site in four languages is obviously difficult and not a priority. It would be preferable to have just basic information in English and German – such as key figures and key press releases (those, for example, on the Labour Force survey which are done throughout the European Union) – and not try to translate the whole site. Attention needs to be given to consistency, navigation and data presentation.

Happy surfing …

This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 7.0 on 31 May 2012 at 19.00 hrs GMT using a 60 Mb link to the Internet on an Intel Core i3-2100 3.1 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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