Computerworld is running a story claiming that Firefox lost 0.64 of a point of market share in July. The same story has been reported by The Mac Observer with the added spin that Safari gained a bit. And now the good folks over at Digg have picked up the ComputerWorld story.
What does this mean? Let me break it down for you. The source for both the ComputerWorld and Mac Observer articles is a company called NetApplications.com, a web site statistics service provider. Their numbers come from aggregating browser stats from all sites using their service — hardly a statistically-valid sample of the web audience. Moreover, the purported ‘decline’ is 0.64 of a percentage point. Oh, heavens. What’s the margin of error for these stats? I’d expect that user agent spoofing, a la Opera, introduces at least that much inaccuracy by itself. Finally, according to web stats service TheCounter.com, Firefox increased its share by 2 points from June to July and in fact passed IE5.x for the first time ever.
So what can we conclude? Not much. Numbers reported by web site statisics services can be indicative of broad trends in browser usage, but they’re not terribly accurate when it comes to small changes over short time intervals. Mozilla-based browsers are probably used by just under 10% of the web audience and their share is growing slowly. IE5.x is probably used by somewhat less than that and its share is declining slowly. IE6 is roughly holding steady.
None of that matters very much for the sites any of us develop, though. What does matter is what the logs for those specific sites say, as that’s the only accurate indicator of which browsers our visitors are using, and even those are only as good as the browser sniffing used by the logfile analyzer or stats service (most are suspect, due to the aforementioned browser-sniffing if nothing else).
So it’s a non-story. NetApplications.com just sent out a press release to get some free publicity, and by virtue of a slow news day they’ve succeeded. Good for them. Here’s hoping they continue to do well. But you’ll pardon me if I don’t put much faith in their numbers for the overall web audience — or in TheCounter’s either, for that matter.
Update: It seems this story has now been picked up by ZDnet, Slashdot, Ars Technica, The Inquirer, vnu.net, InfoWorld, PCWorld and TheRegister. Wow. Slow news day guys? Congrats to NetApplication’s COO Dan Shapero and company on a PR coup, and to C|Net for not believing the hype and declining to write their own story. Raspberries to the gullible or lazy journos who posted the NetApplications release verbatim without fact-checking.
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