A pair of Web metrics firms that track browser share have traded sharp blows, calling into question how their rival measures usage, and which browser -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) or Google's Chrome -- is the planet's most popular.
The dispute over usage numbers isn't new: In March, Roger Capriotti, director of IE marketing, made his company's strongest case up to then for the data published by Net Applications, and dismissed the numbers from Irish metrics company StatCounter because of what he labeled omissions and flaws in the latter's methodology.
Capriotti posted his criticism of StatCounter just a day after that firm announced Chrome had passed IE for the first time in a single day's tracking.
U.S.-based Net Applications has long claimed that IE remains the world's most-used browser, while StatCounter said that Google edged IE for all of May to become No. 1.
Net Applications had IE with a 54.1 percent share in May, Firefox in second with 19.7 percent and Chrome slightly behind Mozilla's browser at 19.6 percent.
Meanwhile, StatCounter said Chrome was in the top spot with 32.4 percent, IE in second with 32.1 percent and Firefox third at 25.6 percent.
The clash over methodologies ignored Firefox and concentrated on IE and Chrome.
Two weeks ago, Vince Vizaccarro, who heads Net Applications' marketing, emailed Computerworld with a rebuttal to StatCounter's claims that Chrome had replaced IE as the most-used browser.
"IE is still the leader, and it's not even close," said Vizaccarro, citing Net Applications' numbers for May. "[Chrome is] very close to passing Firefox for the number 2 position. But they are not threatening the number 1 position held by IE, and it doesn't look like they will for the foreseeable future."
Vizaccarro wasn't kidding when he said Chrome and Firefox were "very close" last month. Net Applications' initial data, released early on June 1, had Chrome passing Firefox in May. Later that day, however, the company revised its figures and said Firefox had held onto the No. 2 spot.
As part of the June 1 revisions, Net Applications also changed IE's share, boosting it by half a percentage point from the preliminary 53.6 percent to the final 54.1 percent for May.
Vizaccarro went into detail about why his company believes its numbers are different from its rival's. His explanations were largely repetitions of the arguments that Capriotti made in March, that Net Applications tracks unique users rather than page views -- so that each user is counted only once per day per website, rather than give more-active surfers greater influence -- and that it weights the data by country.
Microsoft has long cited Net Applications' data to tout the success of IE, particularly IE9 running on Windows.
Unlike Net Applications, StatCounter tallies page views, not users, and does not weight those results.
Both factors are responsible for producing the wildly-different numbers, said Vizaccarro, who rejected page views as susceptible to automated bots "designed to influence market share." None of the browser vendors, however, have ever been accused of trying to game the system with such bots.
Country weighting gives a more accurate estimate of browser share, said Vizaccarro. Net Applications weights its data to account for the lack of Western insight into browsing habits in nations like China, where IE is the overwhelming favorite.