For government Web sites in Estonia, English can wait

  • 2000-08-10
  • Aleksei Gynter
TALLINN - For a foreigner who does not speak Estonian, government Web sites are not the best sources of official information. Only a few of them provide visitors with up-to-date information in English.

The site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the most diverse, offering Russian, English, German, French, Finnish and Swedish versions in addition to Estonian.

The president's Web site, renewed this year, offers high-quality data in English. Speeches, statements and interviews of the president as well as information about his work are present.

Kai Vare, Ministry of Environment spokesperson, admitted that her ministry's Web site does not work properly. The latest news in English is dated May 2000.

"We are working at the new version," she said.

About 10 to 20 percent of the visitors on government sites are English speakers, said Uuno Vallner, information systems adviser of Estonia's state chancellery.

"We have visitors from about 150 countries, according to traffic analysis," said Vallner.

Erkki Leego, director of the IT department of Parliament said: "Parliament's Web site is targeted mostly at Estonian speakers. The English version is made to give basic historical and political background of Parliament."

Having an English version is not obligatory for any of government sites, according to the state chancellery's recommendations for building official sites. The recommendations in Estonian include requirements on content, design and usability. However, they are often violated, according to Leego.

Institutions themselves decide whether to have their own Web sites or not. However, the state chancellery's recommendations have to be taken into account when an institution is going to create its Web site.

The user-friendliness of the government sites is about average, according to Vallner. He also said the sites are good in comparison with the Scandinavian government's Web pages.

There is currently no special law on developing a Web site for every ministry or department. Parliament is working on making the government's Web look more integrated. A law on public information now being discussed in Parliament concerns requirements to the governmental Web sites as well.

"If the Web site does not meet the requirements, we may ask the institution to rebuild the site," said Vallner, who added that the state chancellery is working on creating a more user-friendly database for private and official inquiries.

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