The Home page of the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (www.ons.gov.uk ) almost fits onto one screen. The missing graphic link on the right below the visible screen here is for the Census – reasonably important! A little reduction in height of the other graphics would allow the Census one to be visible – or it could be moved onto the other side below the theme navigation. The taxonomy of the themes on the left-hand navigation is much improved and the various pages that open for each heading or sub-heading give the latest information on the subject – all with links to the relevant documents.
Both of my two standard test data searches were unnecessary on this site as both of the figures – for population and the CPI – were in the key figures panel on the top right of the Home page. Nevertheless, using the theme list to find these data items was simple. Population is one of the themes: following that link brings up a sub-list and a page of important information about population with the overall figure first on the page. Just below the headline figures is a cycling graphic with links to videos about related topics. Below this is a set of interesting stories – again with links. Observing that above the headline figures is a set of tabs, it is thus easy to move to related publications and available data tables. On the day of the visit, the data table relating to the headline figure was not available. So I took the link to the 2012 population estimates. These data tables are in a zipped file which some may not be able to open. The unzipper I use gave a list of the contents in the file. Here all of the country names do not start with a capital letter but the third file – Population Density
– had two capital letters. The first file purported to give ‘detailed coc’: so I went to investigate. The file opens to a notes worksheet in the Excel workbook with a logo of the office followed by the heading ‘2012 Components of Population change for England and Wales’. The originator may understand what ‘coc’ means but the average user would not. The second tab at the bottom of the page just has ‘2012’: it would be wishful thinking of me to assume they could build up a set of tables (though I would not really want them in Excel sheets but in a data cube that could easily be diced and sliced).
Off to the CPI. Prices do not feature on the main list of themes. I guessed ‘Economy’ and found prices at the bottom of the sub-list. Unlike the major themes, the sub-themes do not open to a summary page but go straight to the summaries and publications with, again, another tab at the top for data tables. Looking in the data tables, the CPI was not listed but a link at the bottom of the page went to many more data tables – and I found the CPI table within that list. Found being the correct word: the list was sorted by date but, within any date, the order of entries appears to be random (though the two CPI entries were at least together!). Following the reference tables’ link produced the first page of an Excel workbook with a list of tables: this page did not have the office logo at the top. I looked at Table 1 and found the CPI figure both for the overall basket of goods but also for various divisions. Lines 13 and 19 within the table contain strange groups of letters without a row heading: they are series identifiers in the time series databank but the general visitor would not have a clue.
I randomly chose another table from the list of price indices – the MM22 – Producer Price Indices dataset. The table was poorly laid out with some data shown with one decimal place, some with none and some empty cells. Even cell A1 had a repeated ‘MM22’ at the start of the text.
I chose to test the search as this function had not been too good on my last visit. I entered ‘Pink book’ in the box and had a massive list of content returned with few mentioning the Pink Book – and they were not at the top of the page. On the right of the returned page, the user is presented with a means of restricting the search and I chose to look only for books in the last 5 years. Now I had 4 books returned as the top entries but the ordering was nonsensical: top was that for 2011, then 2009, 2010 and then 2012. Surely the latest should be first?
Back to the Home page (either by clicking on the Home tab on the top navigation or by clicking on the hyperlinked office logo). The central part relates to the latest releases. On the day of the visit, six releases were shown but only one of the headings had the key message in the prime link. For all of the others the user has to click on the rectangle link to the type of statistic when a summary will be shown on to its right with a picture.
Just four key figures are shown on the Home page but a link above these takes the user to a page with a summary list at the top and a much longer list following. More importantly for the user, each of the key figures’ information is linked to the relevant web page and meta-information about the key figure is given – including when it was published and what time period it relates to.
I took a look at the data associated with a key statistics on the day of the visit: Prodcom. The link from the Home page went to the release and I then linked through to the associated data tables. I chose to look at Division 18 – recorded media (as today is the second day of the Glastonbury music festival). Some of the data had appropriate descriptors (Value £000’s) but a significant number of rows of data did not have such a description. I thought the data may relate to actual numbers of CDs: but no, reading the row heading it was clear that the data were values; whether they were in £ or £000 I am none the wiser. I had met this issue on a previous visit to the website.
On the right-hand side of the Home page are links to interactive content (well worth a visit), Census information and a couple of other links.
Overall this site has greatly improved since my last review. Attention to detail needs to be improved and maintained. Also, it is necessary for all titles of tables to be meaningful to ordinary users: do not expect all people accessing the tables to be experts in a subject. The guidance and methodology tab on the top navigation does link to some metadata and methodology but it is not too easy for users to find.
Happy surfing ..
This review was undertaken by Ed Swires-Hennessy using Internet Explorer version 11.0 on 28 June 2014 at 17.00 hrs. GMT using a 100 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