A Look at 'So-Called' Market Share of Browsers

by: Dennis Byron

The old saying goes 'statistics don’t lie, statisticians do.' A corollary should read something like, 'statistics don’t lie, but they sure can be confusing.'

Net Applications is out with its monthly view of so-called “market share” of browsers, operating software and other characteristics of using the Internet. This tends to kick off a lot of technical press activity about a browser horse race among Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer (IE), Mozilla Firefox and – during the 2009 – Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome. As explained in January 2009, I don’t tend to care about browser numbers because there is no market dynamic to measure. But for the record, Chrome has tripled in the horse race during 2009 and IE continues to lose to all other players.

And I say “so-called market share” and that there is “no market dynamic to measure” because the Net Applications methodology is actually measuring usage, not market dynamics, not the “share” that tends to show up in all the press accounts. To be specific, its web site explains:

“We collect data from the browsers of site visitors to our exclusive on-demand network of live stats customers. The data is compiled from approximately 160 million visitors per month.”

The fact that the universe is only Net Applications customer visitors is an issue. But the ‘n’ of 160,000,000 can’t be ignored. Nor can the fact that usage of the Windows operating system was down about 1.5 percent during 2009, with about a third of that loss to the Apple (OTC:APPL) Macintosh and the rest to mobile operating software of all kinds.

So I keep asking myself if there are other Net Applications methodology issues that might affect these browser and operating software numbers. I was hoping the answer was as simple as something like the Net Applications customers visitors mix of Internet Service Providers (ISP) being different than the universe. Were the visitors all using some obscure ISP in Bucharest? Could these growing Macintosh hits all be traced back to some server in Cupertino?

So I was surprised to find that the rest of the world does not have the simple ISP choice—Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) or Verizon (NYSE:VZ) —that I face at home.

In fact, according to Mindbranch, there are over 4000 ISP choices just in the U.S. Mindbranch does tell me that,

“…the four largest (ISP) companies account for more than 50 percent.”

But they don’t tell me, unless I want to purchase its report, whether those four are the same four –Comcast by far, followed by Road Runner, SBC and Verzion—that are used to access Net Applications customer sites. But this four—remember Net Applications statistics are global—only account for about 25% of the hits. Bell South and Charter are right in there too. BT makes the top 10 and Virgin Media (NASDAQ:VMED) and Deutsche Telekom (DT) are not far behind. A TARP honor roll of Merrill Lynch, Wachovia, General Motors and American Express (NYSE:AXP) makes the list along with my favorite, all of the universities originally eligible to play in the Rose Bowl this year plus Harvard, MIT and BU.

So the bottom line is, I dunno if the Net Applications universe skews the numbers but I suspect so. If Windows loses its 87-percentage-point lead over the Mac in 2010, I guess I’ll have to find out.