Does the average Joe really need to know what a browser is?

Jessamyn West shared this yesterday

“A team from Google interviewed dozens of people in Times Square the other day, asking a simple question: What’s a browser? This was in an effort to understand and improve the customer experience of Google’s own browser, called Chrome.

Turns out that over 90% of the people interviewed could not describe what a Web browser is.”

Watch the video

I don’t think any of my non-techie family or friends could answer this question. I’m not sure I could adequately if a microphone was put in my face while I was out shoe shopping (its hard to swtich from thinking about a stacked heel to properly defining browser)  My parents use Firefox because I told them to, I don’t think they have any idea why.

But does it matter?  I know nothing about how my car works, I have no idea what’s actually involved in making it go, other than I turn a key, shift gears and apply the brake.  Does the average Joe need to know what a browser is or just how to get online?  I’m sure  a car enthusiastic will tell you my Saturn is not so hot, but I don’t care it works for me, it gets me from Point A to Point B.  Isn’t that how most people feel about their browser? Some of us are browser enthusiast, some of us aren’t.  If the average Joe only wants to get from Point A to Point B why does he need to know what a browser is?


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7 comments for “Does the average Joe really need to know what a browser is?

  1. June 18, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Wow, really? I thought that was pretty standard. I know that my Dad probably couldn’t define a browser, but he gets tripped up on the concept of e-mail sometimes.

    I’m curious to know how Google defined “browser” for the purposes of this survey, though. Would: “Y’know, like IE and Firefox? Click on an icon, see the Internet, that kind of thing!” have been an acceptable answer, or did they want something more like: “A browser is a software application used to access text, graphic and video information over a tcp/ip typically located on the World Wide Web or other area network”?

    I think it’s … HELPFUL for the average joe to know what a browser is, just so that when I’m trying to help that person remotely, I can say: “Did you try a different browser?” without him saying: “Don’t get all TEKN-ickle on me boy, just fix your goddamn web page!”.

    (Yes, I am quite proud of that narrow-minded and stereotypical characterization of any non-tech user as an irritable old man from rural America, thank you!) ;)

  2. June 18, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    During a game of Catchphrase, I received the word “Browser”, to which my clue was, “Internet Explorer and Firefox are different types of Internet …” In return, I received blank stares; I cringed a bit.

    I think people need to at least know the terms and general definition of basic tech terms. Even if you don’t have an opinion on which browser is best, you should be able to tell a tech which you use. Just knowing basic terms can even enable a user to troubleshoot on their own – there are a lot of good support articles online that can save one from having to pay the geek squad to visit…if you know how to search for them.

    • June 19, 2009 at 5:24 am

      maybe the real question isn’t should they know but how will they learn? who will teach them?

  3. June 19, 2009 at 5:25 am

    good point, Cecily, but someone also taught me to drive a car, anyone can walk in and buy a computer

  4. June 19, 2009 at 5:26 am

    I really love the TV analogy I’m going to use it to explain browsers from now on I think!

  5. June 21, 2009 at 12:39 am

    I have used the same analogy that Cecily uses for the last ten years (browser is a like a tv) — it is the best way to get new users to understand the concept. I then explain that a search engine is like the tv guide as it lets you find what is online. Oh, and when explaining subscription databases versus a search engine I also use a tv analogy in that there is certain content on broadcast tv that anyone can see but to get the extra stuff you need to pay.

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