Browser Statistic lies and Marketing exploitation.
Monday, January 11, 2010 10:03:32 AM
The problem is (and anyone who bothered taking BUSINESS classes in college can back me up on this), is drawing those types of conclusions can be entirely contrary to reality. The truth is MORE PEOPLE are using IE today than they were three years ago... Opera has sat flat at anywhere from 1-3% of browser use depending on who’s numbers you use, but MORE PEOPLE are using Opera today than they were three years ago… and I’m going to prove it to you.
To do so, we're going to compare 2005 to 2008. A three year span that we can easily find concrete numbers for.
The flaw in thinking that a loss of market share means less users comes from asking a simple question: "A percentage of WHAT?" Since 2005 the internet has grown from 1.046 billion users to a 2008 estimate of 1.425 billion users.
To calculate that, I used google public data - simply multiplying % of worldwide population using the internet by the worldwide population figures.
Why is this a flaw? Well, if you look at the Usage Share of browsers culled onto wikipedia from various sources, you see that most of them show that from 2005 to 2006 IE's share of the marketplace has gone from around 90% to somewhere around 70%... Do your math, that means that despite dropping 20% in market share, at the EXACT SAME TIME the number of people using IE went UP - from 942 million users to 997 million users. Net result? Between 2005 and 2008 DESPITE losing 20% market share, they GAINED 55 million users.
Apply these same numbers to Opera. Take the rather low numbers the wikipedia article compiled from "theCounter.com" and it goes from 0.54% in Q1 2005 to 0.89% in Q4 2008. So they gained 64% overall users, right? WRONG. Multiply those by the number of internet users for those years and you have growth from 5.6 million users to 12.6 million users. That's 7 million new users and a growth in userbase of 124%!!!
You look at the higher numbers for opera as reported by Net Applications (the next listing down on the wikipedia page) we see growth from 0.54% to a whopping 2.15% over the same time period. You do the math, and it's growth from 5.6 million to 30.6 million - that's 24 million new users in three years and a 442% increase!!!
The lie of the assumptions people draw from the percentages doesn't end there. The percentages themselves are often based on faulty/incorrect numbers. How many of those IE and FF users tracked are actually Opera users who had to 'mask as IE' or 'mask as FF' to even USE the websites tracked in the stats in the first place thanks to faulty browser sniffers? If pages are set up to use Firefox's prefetch those extra downloaded sites could be treated as extra instances of users skewing the numbers in FF's favor. (Though since that uses LINK and allegedly only if the link is rel=prefetch or rel="next" that damage is lessened, it's still a good example)
It can even be skewed by simply asking "Are you tracking hits, visits, using cookies to track, sessions?" - invalidated visits could skew the numbers in favor of people who visit the site frequently, hits has nothing to do with users since a IE user could be stop by twenty pages while a Opera user sees a broken website and becomes a bounce - a cookie or session handling saying "we already counted you for this browser" is a step up, but with people flushing them and having multiple machines that could skew things.... The techno-geek with Firefox on his home machine, work machine, media center machine and two laptops is going to be counted five times to the Dee Dee Dee user who only has the Internet at home and knows nothing more of the web than "Duh, I click on the big blue E"
When the potential sample group constantly changes size percentages begin to lose a hell of a lot of their meaning.
So why do people get this wrong? Pretty simple really, it provides a nice round number that can be used to make wild sensational claims - instant media darling... just like most percentages you hear in the media. When you see a percentage you always have to follow up the question with "Were the sample groups the same size? Did you question the same people? Are the methods of recording the information reliable? Has the method of recording information changed?" - A no to any of those makes the whole damned thing meaningless.
... and yet in most cases nobody notices when those extra facts are omitted. It's called card stacking... Hell, that's Marketing 101 - Just a one of many propaganda techniques - let's list out a few relevant ones.
Card Stacking Omitting some facts so that the remainder of the facts support your position. It's a sleazeball trick, but one that the average Joe falls for every time.
The bandwagon Make people feel left out: "I'm using it, she's using it, he's using it, they're all smarter about computers, so don't you want to use it too?"
scare tactics Make the other products look bad: "IE's got massive security holes, Opera has bad website support, Chrome restricts what you can do and lets google spy on you. Don't support the big evil corporations"
Glittering Generalities Use words that make people feel good. Free and Freedom for example are great glittering generalities, especially when the people using them are often advocating the OPPOSITE of freedom: "Open source is better and gives you freedom. It's truly democratic in how it works, and all software should be open source." Notice the agenda tacked on the end - the first sentence and pre-phrase both make it sound good enough, people will agree with the final phrase without even thinking about what it actually means - here's a tip, if you remove the choice to have non-open source... Watch out for that one, the FSF whackjobs love to talk about restricting your freedom of choice for something the average person lacks the time or interest to even participate in (editing software), wrapping it in feel good terminology and little rational thought. Other examples are even more vague - take Apple's "Think Different" - just exactly what does that even MEAN.
Name calling This sounds easy to recognize, but often is not. "those FSF whackjobs" is obvious - less obvious is the use of words that can divide us into "us and them" - Corporation for example has a evil ring to it for many people; an unthinking uncaring bureaucratic monster... the mere notion of a benevolent corporation, even when they're the ones putting a roof over your head is inconceivable. To put it in the modern vernacular "obvious troll is obvious" - it's the underhanded slaps you need to watch out for.
Transfer Taking the love of one thing to transfer it to another. All the Google products are classic examples of this - love Google search? How about Google Mail, Google Video, Google Chrome... Thunderbird is another example - you like FF, thunderbird is by the same people and uses the same technologies (Really, is that why it's a mail client five times the size of the browser?)
... and of course, one of the all time greats, Simplification - since you're throwing away information with card stacking to make the statistics say something the full facts don't, keep simplifying down the viewpoint until instead of levels of grey the target is presented with a clearcut choice. Yes, or no? Good, or evil.... that brings us to:
Implied malice a nasty combination of many of the above techniques, where you IMPLY that a group is 'evil' or 'not working in your interests' even when there are no facts to support that viewpoint. Great example of this are claims that Corporations are only out for their own interests - failing to mention that those interests for a healthy corporation is to have people who WANT to use their products and to meet those users needs so that they continue to have clients. Omitting the second part of that logic combined with all the above puts people back into that "Us and them" mentality, the cornerstone of propaganda and treading into the territory of brainwashing. How does the old joke go? "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."
Some of the other techniques like Plain Folks, Testimonials don't entirely apply to browsers per-se, but we see them in the computing industry from the king of marketing - APPLE. The stoner slacker in the Mac vs. PC commercials for example is trying to make Apple appeal to a younger hipper crowd - that's plain folks - but it can backfire, as evident by those of us who use windows, have been known to wear a suit when doing so, and usually are the ones who write the stoner kid's paycheck at the end of the week. Those are also testimonials, the normal looking guy is saying Mac's are better - On the reverse of the coin look at the "I got a PC" ads run by M$ and several hardware makers like HP and Dell (great when they agree to work together) - those are testimonials.
The lesser of two evils is the cutest of all. Apple vs. M$ is the ultimate example of this in action - especially when on the surface the big evil corporation that's omnipresent everywhere seems like the greater evil, when if you look at their business practices Apple is just as dirty or even DIRTIER a dealer than Microsoft ever has been. Hardware vendor lock-in? Mis-representing products? Market price gouging? That anyone has the slightest warm and fuzzy feeling for Apple is due entirely to marketing and perception and has NOTHING to do with anything they've actually done as a hardware/software vendor.
I'm always amazed at how people fall for this stuff because, well, I've been pretty much immune to it my whole life. I've always seen these types of marketing tricks and statistics gaming and gone back to the basic response of "prove it" and "that's not proof"... It's the same immunity I have to get rich quick schemes and nonsense like "affiliate marketing".
It also touches on something I said a while back - Opera's biggest problem in gaining share has NOTHING to do with the quality, capabilities or ease of use of the actual products - it is their near total lack of anything resembling marketing. Google is running TV spots for Chrome, I see Firefox ads in the middle of football games. You can't open up a glossy without at least SOME mention of either, and you see web articles about them all the time - the last of those is easy since if you are issuing press releases in a timely manner (via fax to print media outlets) you should be getting at least SOMETHING out of it. Leaving people to dig for some developers blog is NOT marketing.
Though even the name... "Opera" - sounds, old, stodgy, that alone likely costs potential users. As someone said on the forums a few months back it's time to stuff that back as the company name just as Mozilla did, and pick something better sounding so you aren't name calling yourself.