What's a Browser?

Here is an interesting short video of a guy asking people if they know what a browser is, and whether they know the difference between a browser and a search engine.  Turns out only 8% of the people knew the difference.  The video includes this great quote: "Google predominates the market, obviously."

That number seems shockingly low to me, but at the same time I guess I’m not surprised.  A large percentage of otherwise-intelligent people seem to mentally freeze up when the topic of computers arises.  Couple that with the fact that people don’t actually need to know what these terms mean in order to use the internet, and the 8% result isn’t so surprising.

Still, I wonder why so many people have this kind of reaction to anything computer-related.  I’d say there’s hardly anybody who doesn’t know the difference between, say, their cable TV provider and the various TV channels that they can watch through that provider; yet a similar kind of situation with computer issues totally baffles them.  Maybe the internet is still too new for most people to understand it yet.

The video reminds me of this great article from a few weeks ago.  It’s about some changes that Facebook was making to their login process, and for a while it apparently was the #1 search result on Google when you searched for "Facebook login".  If you scroll down to the comments on the article, you’ll see that there are thousands of them, mostly like these ones:

Quoting confused people:

#5. The new facebook sucks> NOW LET ME IN.

#19. This is such a mess I can’t do a thing on my facebook .The changes you have made are ridiculous,I can’t even login!!!!!I am very upset!!!

#28. OK can I long in now

#31. I am not happy!!!,I was starting to feel comfortable with it now I am all confuse How do I sign in?

#43. Nothing like being taken hostage on our own computer :-(

#47. Why wont you let me sign in?

Apparently a huge number of people get to Facebook -- and presumably all the sites that they visit -- not by typing "facebook.com" into their browser’s address bar, but rather by going to Google and typing "facebook" into it, then clicking on the first search result.

It’d be easy to chalk this up to those people simply being clueless, but I think it also shows that, to whatever extent we IT people have tried to make our products and services user-friendly, there’s still a fundamental disconnect for a large percentage of the population which may indicate that on some level we’ve failed.  And ironically this works to Facebook’s advantage, because to many people Facebook is the internet, just as AOL was the internet for many people a decade ago.

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies


01. Mar 7, 2010 at 03:42pm by theMom:

......and what’s Firefox and who are Mozilla and Thunderbird?  Oh, and I thought Linux was Charlie Brown’s little brother, sigh....

02. Mar 8, 2010 at 06:32pm by jesse wiedinmyer:

I think you’re overestimating how much of this is tied to computers.

03. Mar 10, 2010 at 06:59am by Anthony:

Yeah, there are plenty of people out there who aren’t very smart in general, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near 92%.  And lots of the people who just mentally freak out when it comes to computers are smart people.  I think it’s the whole any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic thing that gets a lot of them.

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