The “What is a browser?” question

A Google employee goes out into Times Square in New York armed with video camera and microphone to ask people the question “What is a Browser?”

On first viewing I thought to myself that the video only highlighted the ‘wrong’ answers to make it more entertaining. Surely most people would give the correct answer? As it turns out, only 8% said something along the lines of : “A browser is a computer program for viewing websites” – which is what could be termed the ‘right’ answer.

Mashable has a blog post about the video too. The title of post is “Google asks common man ‘What is a browser?’ Common man has no clue.” The post author says :

“Judging from the video, average users don’t know the difference between IE, Firefox (Firefox), Chrome, AOL, or even “the Yahoo.” Hence, Google’s only path to serious adoption in the near-term might require a move from Microsoft’s playbook: getting Chrome bundled with other software packages.”

Of course average users don’t know the difference between the various web browsers, and why should they? People use software to accomplish a task. How they do it is pretty much incidental. People in this experiment weren’t ask what the difference was between various browsers though. Consider the scenario. They had a camera and a microphone in their face and asked a very open question – ‘What is a browser’. Outside of the tech community, this question is totally redundant. There’s no point in using tech terms when talking to “common man”. A couple of the comments on the Mashable article have said something similar.

The framing of the question is all important. Had these people been asked the question “What computer program do you use to browse the internet” may have evoked a very different response.

As it stands, this video is just something for the technical community to share and have a giggle about and feel a little bit superior to “common man”.

Would be very interesting to produce a couple of videos on the streets of Dublin – one asking the “What is a browser?” question and the other asking something a little more suitable to a non tech audience. The result might be more enlightening and valuable.

One comment

  1. Pity I wasn’t in New York at the time the question was asked. I would have told them what a browser is: Someone who goes into a shop searching for that elusive something missing in their lives.

    Only 8 % of people gave the right answer: So what? Ask people where their pancreas is located or what a cam belt is for and you’d probably get a similar result. Main thing like with anything in life – says this not so “common” (wo)man – is that it WORKS. The detail, the technicalities totally irrelevant other than – as you note – to the “techie”.

    Brilliant point you make how the “framing” of a question may have different outcomes as to the answers. One could build a whole new school of philosophy on that thought alone.


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