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What is a Web Browser? No One Knows!

By Craig Buckler

What's a web browserThis is depressing. Google recently interviewed a random sample of people in Times Square, New York, and asked a simple question: “What is a web browser?”

Fewer than 8% of people knew. Most confused it with a search engine, and the majority did not appear to know which browser they used. More worrying for Google was that no one had heard of Chrome…

That’s a little scary. Perhaps Google’s survey was performed on a bad day? Unfortunately, I’ve a horrible feeling that the figures would be similar no matter where you asked the question (except for Finland, which appears to have a disproportionately high percentage of technically-literate people!).

This leaves web developers with a problem. Whilst we may be passionate about our browser of choice, the vast majority of non-geeks in the real world use whatever browser is on their PC. Most people will only switch if a techie-friend does it for them — and I bet they don’t notice any significant differences.

How can we encourage the adoption of newer and better technology if no one knows what we’re talking about? I suspect many of the ‘kill IE6’ campaigns have a negligible effect, and ignorance must be partially responsible for the slow and lingering death of the browser.

How do you explain what a ‘web browser’ is to the 92% of people who do not know or care?

Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.