Who counts the counters? Is Chrome actually more prevalent than IE?

Google Chrome logo

StatCounter raised eyebrows by proclaiming Google Chrome quickly surpassed Internet Explorer because the Web’s leading browser. However where do these numbers come from, plus does anyone learn what’s absolutely happening?

Web metrics fast StatCounter caused a bit of the commotion earlier this week by declaring which Google’s Chrome quickly topped Microsoft’s Internet Explorer because the world’s most well known Internet browser throughout the week of May 7 to May 13. Nobody doubts which Chrome has become a main presence inside the Internet browser scene because its introduction inside 2008, however is it really at a point where it’s more popular than Internet Explorer?

It depends the way you count, plus whom we ask. And the truth is the fact that nobody knows.

What browser is the fact that?


At initial glance, figuring out that Internet browsers are the top appears effortless. Every time a Internet browser links to a website, it identifies itself to the remote site with what’s called a “user agent” field. User agent is a fancy expression for Internet browser, yet it equally encompasses scripts, look engine bots, plus any alternative software crafted to fetch Internet pages. User agent strings is empty, or they is easy because a name. But, today, they’re usually a complicated series of names, adaptation numbers, plus technologies.

Here’s a consumer agent label for my main computer, a Mac running Firefox:

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.7; rv:12.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/12.0

This reveals very a lot regarding my computer. My browser identifies itself because a Mozilla-compatible browser, adaptation 5. It additionally shows which I’m utilizing a Mac running Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Firefox is utilizing the Gecko rendering engine, plus I’m running Firefox 12. At smallest this week. (Remote Internet servers moreover receive my IP address, yet it’s not element of the consumer agent field.)

A consumer agent tag from Internet Explorer may resemble this:

Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.1; Trident/5.0;

Things are absolutely cool — plus this really is a short consumer agent label from Explorer.

Why is Internet Explorer identifying itself because Mozilla? It’s an artifact within the dark days of Internet browser history. Back before Internet Explorer existed, Netscape Navigator began identifying itself because “Mozilla” (i.e., the “Mosaic killer”) plus Internet websites which desired to employ Netscape-specific qualities (like the ever-popular <blink> tag) checked for the “Mozilla” consumer agent to determine what content to serve to the browser — or whether to serve any content at all. In purchase to play found on the same field because Netscape, Microsoft selected to have its initial adaptation of Internet Explorer identify itself because Mozilla — plus, really, every mainstream Internet browser since that time has had to do the same. The upshot is the fact that the “Mozilla” label is today effectively meaningless, though Firefox (plus additional browsers utilizing the Gecko engine) have the many legitimate claim to the name.

The brief IE consumer agent furthermore identifies the adaptation of Internet Explorer, the variation of Windows (paradoxically Windows NT 6.1 is Windows 7 — yes, more funkiness), as well as the adaptation of Internet Explorer’s rendering engine Trident. The Trident string is significant for websites which, state, have to distinguish between Internet Explorer 7 plus Internet Explorer 8 running inside “compatibility mode.” In the real globe, Internet Explorer consumer agent strings are more complicated, with additional applications plus add-ons (like toolbars) frequently appending their own info.

Still more funkiness — here’s a consumer agent string from an iPad’s built-in Safari browser:

Mozilla/5.0 (iPad; CPU OS 5_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/534.46 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.1 Mobile/9A334 Safari/7534.48.3

Look, it’s more Mozilla! Just this time, the rendering engine is AppleWebKit (“like Gecko” is anything Apple submit there for most same factors Microsoft adopted “Mozilla”). This identifies an iPad running iOS 5.0.

Still funkier, here’s an illustration of the consumer agent label from a development adaptation of Google Chrome 20:

Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64) AppleWebKit/536.6 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/20.0.1092.0 Safari/536.6

Oh look, we’re nevertheless Mozilla (besides the fact that we’re not). This time we’re running Windows 7, except the browser is running inside anything called WOW64, an environment the 64-bit variation of Windows has for 32-bit applications. (WOW is Windows On Windows…get it?) And Google Chrome is based found on the open source WebKit engine, meaning it furthermore identifies itself because AppleWebKit plus (confusingly) Safari.

This is simply a test. At a especially simple level, figuring out what browsers persons are utilizing involves collecting, parsing, cataloging, plus examining these consumer agent fields. As you are able to see, they’re somewhat odd plus usually unintuitive, with many browsers consistently identifying themselves because anything they’re not (Mozilla), utilizing strange versioning (Windows 7 is Windows NT 6.1), plus variation numbers which can not create consistent sense (see how the iPad’s Safari adaptation is within the thousands, yet Chrome’s is within the hundreds? And why is Chrome equally Safari?). Between aged computers, unique computers, bots, applications with built-in browsers, scripts, cell phones, pills, ereaders, game consoles, and more, there are virtually tens of thousands of consumer agent identifiers “in the wild” at any provided time, with modern ones appearing all of the time. Keeping track of all of them — plus learning them — is not a little feat, however it’s do-able. After all, keeping track of fiddly pieces of info is what computers are advantageous at, proper?

Collecting strings


If we recognize how to receive browser info from consumer agent tags, the upcoming thing we want is a lot of tags. Anybody that runs their own Website — including aspects like blogs — has possibly looked at several type of log analysis, tourist monitoring, or analytics: services which really consider the information gathered by the Internet host plus try to provide we an idea regarding a visitors: what nations they’re from, what browsers their utilizing, possibly what look terms they can have chosen to locate we, plus (of course) how several “hits” they produced.

That’s really how services like Alexa, Google Analytics, Net Applications’ NetMarketShare, StatCounter’s GlobalStats, WebSTAT, Webtrends, plus countless others work. These services are practical to get a general idea regarding a site’s visitors, yet the results for a certain site can’t be generalized to the whole Internet. For example, a site that’s all regarding the newest Android apps is possibly going to find a disproportionate amount of traffic from Android devices; similarly, a website concentrating about Windows gaming information is possibly going to find a high percentage of Windows consumers than the Internet on the whole. Even a general-interest site has no method of recognizing whether their traffic is within any method representative of the broader Internet.

So, to receive an exact idea of how the worldwide Internet is utilizing Internet browsers, you’d really need to be capable to consider all Internet use, worldwide, for a provided period. That’s impossible, thus all services which attempt to analyze worldwide browser share (or country-wide, or site-wide, for complicated sites) all employ guesswork.

For greater or worse, the 2 leading services which try to supply estimates of worldwide browser use are Net Applications’ NetMarketShare plus StatCounter.

NetMarketShare plus StatCounter

NetMarketShare Desktop Browsers April 2012

In NetMarketShare’s case, it collects information from a set of regarding 40,000 Internet websites which utilize it HitsLink analytics service plus SharePost bookmarking service. Net Applications claims it tracks regarding 160 million visits a month, as well as the firm attempts to limit to counting visitors to a specific website when a day. They then weight the information based found on the amount of Internet consumers per nation, because reported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. NetMarketShare makes monthly statistics accessible for free, plus has fee-based services that provide information up-to-date each hr.

Ireland’s StatCounter operates about a synonymous principle: It collects Internet browser information from a network of over 3 million sites which employ its StatCounter traffic analysis service. Unlike HitsLink, StatCounter makes several standard services accessible for free — because a outcome, StatCounter collects info from a whopping three million Internet websites plus claims to procedure over 15 billion hits monthly. That might appear to leave NetMarketShare inside the dust. But, StatCounter’s methodology is a bit different than NetMarketShare: StatCounter derives its browser use information based about raw page plenty (or “hits”) plus refuses to try to track individual visitors. Similarly, StatCounter refuses to attempt to massage or weight its figures by population or any different factors. StatCounter’s strategy is basically a hit is a hit is a hit, plus that’s all information collection services really learn.

These different approaches make greatly different numbers: by way of example, just StatCounter showed Google Chrome pulling before Internet Explorer throughout the next week of May. For April, NetMarketShare shows Internet Explorer nonetheless keeping the very comfortable lead over Chrome, accounting for 54 % of the worldwide browser marketplace — plus their weekly stats don’t show any mammoth upswing for Chrome throughout May. In truth, Chrome managed 18.85 %, that wasn’t even enough for 2nd place: which was Firefox with 20.20 %. That’s a big difference.

StatCounter Global Desktop Browser Share 6weeks April May 2012

How Chrome works

Google has located a sturdy focus about real-time performance with Chrome. It not merely wants Chrome to become the easiest plus many intuitive Internet browser available, it wants Chrome to become the quickest. Beginning with Chrome 13 back inside mid-2011, Google began using the hot technique to better Chrome’s obvious performance to end users: It began pre-rendering pages consumers hadn’t even asked to find. This takes 2 types. Whenever a consumer enters a look question, Chrome may download chosen look results onto a hidden page so that they is shown about screen near-instantaneously whenever a consumer clicks a look results link. (Google equally implemented a custom header thus pages may identify themselves because desiring to be pre-rendered. This applies primarily to Google’s own services.) Starting with Chrome 17 (introduced inside February) Google extended this behavior to Chrome’s omnibox.

Google figures which, almost all of the time, consumers desire among the top look results. If so, they’ll receive which page because shortly because they click on the link, no waiting. If it turns out the consumer wants another page, no damage done: Chrome drops the pre-rendered pages plus goes out to the Internet to fetch the chosen link: no quicker than any different Internet browser, however, no slower either.


What does this mean for counting Internet browser use? It signifies which whenever Chrome consumers look for elements, they generate hits about pages they can never navigate to, quite often as they’re typing look questions. Searching for Canadian singer Buffy Sainte-Marie? Do it inside Chrome, plus chances are certain top look results hits for Buffy the Vampire Slayer will see certain hits.

This has a immense impact about services like StatCounter which track Internet use strictly found on the basis of hits. Chrome consumers whom happen to be looking for anything associated to a website inside StatCounter’s network is unwittingly going out plus fetching those pages. Where a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox is mainly generating traffic to Google or another look engine till a consumer clicks about a look happen item, Chrome is fetching pages inside the background from all over the Internet — plus, chances are, the consumer usually not even consider most those pages.

NetMarketShare states it began discarding information produced from Chrome’s pre-rendering inside February 2012.

Sample bias

What alternative items will create NetMarketShare plus StatCounter inaccurate?


The many apparent element is where they gather their information. Simply because the traffic to a single url isn’t representative of the Internet because a entire, neither may StatCounter neither NetMarketShare claim their site networks are representative of the whole Internet. Many 43 % of the 40,000 websites which NetMarketShare tracks are online commerce sites; similarly, 18 % are business websites, 10 % are “content websites,” plus 29 % fall outside those categories — maybe they’re social websites, universities, government services, or affiliate marketers. But, the whopping 76 percent of websites which NetMarketShare collects info from engage inside pay-per-click traffic-generation programs. In additional words, NetMarketShare is biases towards websites involved inside online company plus advertising, plus that are ready to pay for a third-party analytics service based inside the United States.

StatCounter has more websites beneath its wing, considering it provides simple Internet traffic analysis for free. What kinds of websites are those? The free service makes StatCounter a favorite amongst bloggers, non-profits, little companies, plus different websites which could not be engaging inside outright ecommerce or online advertising. It additionally provides StatCounter a extensive presence inside emerging economies, where people that may afford to place up a simple Website could not be ready to pay for a complicated traffic analysis service. StatCounter is additionally not based inside the United States — for certain people that’s a plus, for other people it’s a minus, plus several don’t care 1 technique or another. In any case, where NetMarketShare styles towards companies plus companies with immense online presences, StatCounter seems a bit towards small, global websites which are more probably to focus about individual or niche content. If certain browsers were more prevalent outside the United States than others — plus there’s a great deal of evidence to recommend that’s the case for Firefox, Chrome, plus Opera — then StatCounter’s network — as well as the truth they don’t geographically weight their results — might appear more probably to reflect those variations.

And there’s confidentiality. Both StatCounter plus NetMarketShare are 3rd parties which gather information from sites, plus both provide their customers several mechanisms to gather which information — certain are more noticeable (or obtrusive) than others. If Internet consumers choose from accepting third-party cookies (the standard inside mobile Safari, for instance), it may beat NetMarketShare’s assessment of whether a tourist is specific. (They have additional techniques they may use, however, the numbers receive fuzzier.) Moreover, these are precisely the kinds of monitoring plus analytics services which receive blocked by confidentiality add-ons to Internet browsers plus confidentiality policies at several websites. (For example, various universities, libraries, plus different companies block analytics plus monitoring services to avoid assortment of information regarding minors.)

It can be argued which various Internet consumers don’t even learn where to locate their browser’s confidentiality settings, allow alone how to install plus configure browser add-ons. However, those consumers are more probably to be theoretically sophisticated, knowledgeable Internet consumers — plus, for greater or worse, those are probably to function as the people which lean towards browsers like Chrome plus Firefox instead of Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari. As a outcome, several unknowable proportion of Chrome plus Firefox consumers are excluding themselves from items like NetMarketShare plus StatCounter — thus those browsers can be somewhat under-represented inside the figures.

So are they sleeping?

Neither NetMarketShare neither StatCounter could create a sturdy claim which their analysis of browser share is really representative of Internet utilize because a entire. This does not indicate either organization has been duplicitous: They’re both operating what they believe is the greatest analysis they will. But the businesses value different details, employ different information sets, plus aren’t counting the same items. It’s no surprise their numbers don’t agree.

When we see browser share reports from NetMarketShare, only remember it’s their geographically-weighted ideal guess of special vistors, based about traffic to a selection of websites which primarily engage inside ecommerce plus online advertising — plus possibly with an American bias. Similarly, whenever we see browser share reports from StatCounter, merely remember the figures are based about raw page plenty, mostly from websites all over the world utilizing StatCounter’s free analytics service.

Key words: “best guess.”

Digital Trends


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