Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Searching for meaning: What's a browser, anyway?

Some Google employees did a bit of person-on-the-street interviewing to answer the question: Do people know what a browser is?

The video on YouTube (below) is quite instructive. When asked 'What is a browser?', the answers ranged from the expected to the sublime:

1. A website
2. A search engine
3. Google
4. Yahoo
5. The internet, where you can find anything

The creepiest respondent is at 2m20s in the video.

So What?

The browser wars being of great importance among the geek class, these admittedly anecdotal evidences indicate the widespread ignorance about basic questions of technology. They also call into question the very relevance of efforts to brand a browser...or to regulate it (see here ).

Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer...what they have in common is that they enable users to do something quite similar: access information by pushing the underlying technology behind a simple user interface.

In some ways, they have been so successful at hiding the technology--and supporting a useful, usable, and desirable experience--that they have made their 'product' brand invisible--or at least unmemorable. The fact that many people confuse browsers with search engines only supports the notion of distinctions without a difference when it comes to the primacy of utility in the digital space.

Beyond digital, the idea of branding technology is a challenge. For instance, I suspect that many of us would also fail to recognize the brand of brake pads used in our automobiles...and yet many of us rely on them daily for a very specific and important action without thinking about them. For most, it is the auto brand--via its brake engineering, sourcing and assembly decisions--that stands behind the overall braking (i.e., handling) experience...not the manufacturer of the pad itself.

A case might be made that a Branded House (standing behind the overall experience) beats a House of Brands when the user experience involves a great many complex components aggregated in support of a user's actions.

What's a PC afterall?

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