fact from fiction in tech stat news
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
January 19 - 25, 2010 issue #1056
High Tech Office column
Too often tech news stories present what are probably accurate
statistics with headlines that imply more than the numbers can justify.
Two recent examples:
•A December 20 Slashdot headline: “Firefox 3.5 Now the Most Popular
Browser Worldwide.” Multiple tech media outlets picked up on a graph
published by StatCounter Global Statistics. It showed that Mozilla’s
Firefox version 3.5 had the most users of any web browser version,
followed by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) version 7.
The implication: more people are using Firefox than Internet Explorer.
The reality: the reported graph broke up browser use by versions. For
Firefox, version 2, version 3.0 and version 3.5; for IE, versions 6, 7
and 8. The most-used version of Firefox, the new 3.5 release, with
21.93% user share for the week December 14-20, barely surpassed the
top-scoring version of Internet Explorer (IE 7) with 21.2% use for that
The online graph is interactive. Change it to show browsers rather than
browser versions and a different picture appears. Combining all
versions, Internet Explorer accounted for 55.4% of all users for that
week; Firefox came in second with 32.12%. A strong showing for Firefox,
a product that isn’t pre-installed in either Windows or Mac OS X, but a
very different result than what a quick read of the headline might
More playing around with the interactive graph produces other
interesting data. In Europe, for instance, while IE still leads, the
gap is much reduced: IE 44.8% versus Firefox 40.86%, while Asian users
give IE a much stronger 64.68% to 26.31% lead. North America sits in
the middle with results not much different from the world overall.
Looking at the individual browser version data is interesting, however.
The old, insecure Internet Explorer 6 is the most-used browser version
in Asia, while its use has dropped dramatically in Europe and North
America. Perhaps this is a result of higher Asian use of pirated copies
of Windows XP, making it harder to update to newer browser versions.
And while last-generation IE 7 is the most popular version of that
browser worldwide, the latest version of Firefox is its most-used
The reason? Mozilla’s Firefox, by default, checks for updates every
time it’s opened up. Internet Explorer is updated as part of the
overall Windows Update process. The result seems to be that Firefox
users are much more likely to be running the current (and most secure)
version of their browser.
•A December 22 headline: “Facebook ‘sex chats’ blamed for one in five
divorces,” according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail. The implication:
Facebook use leads to divorce. And with Canada having the world’s
highest rate of Facebook use, should we be worried?
The reality: what was reported was not a formal research study or poll,
but rather a lawyer looking through his firm’s files and claiming that
some 20% of the firm’s recent divorce petitions mentioned the popular
social network, most often complaining of “inappropriate sexual chats.”
Does that make Facebook use any different from any other way for
wandering partners to get into trouble? I doubt it. Think mobile phones
or text messages. Or Internet chat groups. Are Facebook users
“flirtier” than users of other social networks or are there just more
If partners are looking outside their relationships, they’ll find a way
to do it. If they’re already using Facebook they may use that, just as
they would any other social activity. But having your partner sign up
for a Facebook account doesn’t increase the likelihood that divorce is
on the horizon. Not even in the U.K. Headlines are designed to draw
readers. As with 140-character Twitter comments, you may have to read
more to get the whole story. •