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June 17, 2009

A Browser Is a Search Engine

Apparently, many people don't know what's a browser and they think it's the same thing as a search engine. I've recently quoted some posts from Google Chrome's help forum which were strange: users didn't like Chrome and they thought that the old search engine was better. "I want the old Google search engine, not Google Chrome. How do I go back to regular old Google? I want to change my default search engine from Chrome to Google."

Scott Suiter, a former Google intern, asked 50 passersby from New York what is a browser and the responses were almost unanimous: a browser is a search engine. Some even said that their browser is Google.



According to Wikipedia, "a web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting, and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web." But search engines are the applications that help you find web pages and they're so important that they became synonymous with web browsers. It's an involuntary synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part of an object is used to refer to the entire object.

{ via Andy Baio }

69 comments:

  1. It's the same as "the monitor is the computer", this is the usual answer ;)

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  2. and the hard disk is usually mistaken as the cabinet ;)

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  3. My wife always says "Turn on the Internet" when she wants me to start FF

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  4. I ran into this myself when a client complained of a bug that happens when he clicks the "Google back button". Took me a while to figure out that he means the back button on his browser...

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  5. Odd but true. Maybe it could be interesting for browser developers to think about this misunderstanding and use it.

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  6. A good (and ambiguous) ad for Google Chrome: "Upgrade your search experience. Try the new version of Google Chrome."

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  7. *Facepalm*

    None of my non-technical friends ever mistake a search engine for a browser. They always say, "Oh, I downloaded Firefox/Chrome/Opera the other day, I like it much better than IE".

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  8. The answer is in the question itself: they asked people in NY (which is in the USA).

    disclaimer (for US people): if you're American and not dumb, my above comment obviously is not about you, so no need to get offended. Might I also add that it is quite ridiculous that the disclaimer is twice as long as my actual comment.

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  9. @gravi_t:

    Not knowing the definition of a browser doesn't make you dumb, but ignorant, less technology knowledgeable etc. Can you name an important work of Igor Stravinsky without using a search engine or an encyclopedia?

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  10. Considering that the majority of users don't know what a browser is; couldn't them knowing, as opposed to not knowing, be a potential problem for Google? In the sense that more experienced users tend to ignore advertisement all together... or use Adblock Plus.

    Just a thought.

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  11. My seven year old doesn't really differentiate firefox from google or "the web". You start FF, you start google, you go to the lego animations on youtube or flash games on miniclip. he does know that the stuff is "elsewhere", namely that if the network goes down the fun goes away. What he doesnt know is exactly how network partitions arise, and who is usually behind them (his dad)

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  12. It's a quite common to answer the most common use of a tool, in response to "what is a...?"
    E.g. when a spoon is mentioned hardly anybody will tell you the spoon is for ladling fluids, but most people will tell you it is for eating food.
    Or of a car, its general property of being able to transport people isn't used to explain what it is, but it's used to "drive to work".

    So when people is asked what a browser is, they interpret it as what do you use it most for. And as virtually nobody only uses a browser read HTML files on his/her computer, it's not so strange they associate browser with searching the internet throught their favourite web search engine (which very often is by default loaded into their browser).

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  13. Educators, like myself, who love teaching with technology, will hopefully change this.
    PS One of my favorites is; "Internet Explorer is THE INTERNET, right?"

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  14. As this is really funny how it can be such misleading from Wikipedia too.

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  15. fax that email to me.

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  16. the interweb is great for porn, do i double click?

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  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  18. I thought a browser was a chocolate cake... or the hair over your eyes... or someone who's always praising his boss...

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  19. I think what happened is that it probably said google somewhere near the man and people just thought he was doing PR for google and associated google search with browser.

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  20. My friend confused her computer with a monitor. The other day she brought het monitor and told me i should look at her computer.

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  21. Well, repeat this in Germany and you get answers like: "the program where the internet is in it"
    But I don't think that people would call it search machine.

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  22. This ad might work:
    "Upgrade your internet now with the brand new *Google Chrome* - where there's a whole world to search and explore."

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  23. Lo mismo pasa aqui, si no ven a Google por defecto en su pagina de inicio creen que no entran a Internet.

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  24. If you work in IT support with end users, this type of misunderstanding is par for the course. You could have asked what application people used to check their email and they will say "Yahoo!" or "Gmail" or "Hotmail". The majority of folks I support have very little understanding about the differences between applications on their computer. "What did you use to create this document?" or "What kind of document is it?" is still a confusing question to a tremendous number of people, and they often answer "Windows" when they mean MS Office because they don't distinguish between those things the way that people who are paid to care about do. MS waste an enormous amount of money on marketing and branding applications like Office because most people have zero clue about any of it except when they see an ad for it or see someone else using a version they don't use and they want a fancy geegaw that that version does.

    People also routinely called Firefox "Foxfire" and Internet Explorer "the Internet" or "Explorer" or, "That blue E" or "The blue icon".

    *shrugs* There's really nothing new being discovered here, just a confirmation of what most of us already know.

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  25. This is a very dangerous thing to Microsoft.
    The bundling of IE in Windows was originally to try prevent such a thing from ever happening, because if they lose the desktop, they lose "everything". (little over exaggerated, but you get the idea)
    Each year they slowly lose market share on the web.
    Unless they REALLY kick things into gear with IE9 and up, they will just lose out.

    And you ever wonder _why_ it was called "Internet" Explorer?
    Once they got people thinking the Internet = the little blue icon, they had won the war. (when it only browses an extremely small subset of the Internet, The WWW)
    Just like smallerdemon above mentioned, actually.

    The days of the desktop are slowly dying, everything is moving to the Internet, from Cloud based office applications to games.
    And with Opera Unite just launching in alpha, shows a lot of promising ideas. I hope to god that they put as much as they can in to this and make it as simple as possible, but allow for complex customization too.
    And with all these social networks growing, it is slowly taking over e-mail too, which is kind of a good thing, e-mail has stagnated for years.
    This is why i am so excited about Wave, it could (hopefully) reinvent the concept of e-mail. But i won't get too excited in case it bombs.
    Oh well, Gmail is still as awesome as ever.

    The future of the web, despite the ever-growing eye of Big Brother, will sure be an exciting one.

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  26. "My friend came over to my house and erased all my other browsers and installed it and said you use this now!"

    Priceless :D

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  27. They really ought to do some TV advertising for Chrome.

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  28. This is not a survey of New Yorkers, but of New Yorkers who will stop to be recorded answering a stranger's question, which I think is a small fraction of New Yorkers in general-- the ones who aren't busy.

    How many people did Scott try to ask?

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  29. @Hunnter,

    A "bag" used to hold "laptop" is called a "laptop bag".
    I don't see anything wrong in Internet Explorer as long as you can explore the Internet with that particular application.

    P.S - I am using Chrome since IE removed inline auto-complete from the addressbar.

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  30. Most people I know outside the IT industry don't know the difference between Microsoft, Intel, Windows, Office, their PC manufacturer, a browser and a search engine (and for all I know, their left elbow). It's all one big appliance to them.

    If they got their first computer configured one way (e.g. with Office preinstalled on Windows) then that's what they think they all look like, and how their next computer should look.

    @Hunter wrote: "And you ever wonder _why_ it was called "Internet" Explorer? "

    - Because Microsoft name most of their applications directly after its function. Next question.

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  31. The more stupid the customer is, the easier it is to sell him anything. From this definition, there is no reason for the big companies to educate people. Just use M$ phrase about forgetting everything you ever knew about computers, as you no longer need with new hyper version of their OS.

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  32. i use blogspot as a browser ! :)

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  33. Those 2 "Anonymous " in a row are clueless as to what the earlier poster was trying to teach us.

    And, No, MS don't name their products after their function. Only a slackjaw would say they are 'windowing' or 'officing' or 'X-ing'.

    Fck, what a bunch of monkey cousins.
    --

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  34. This is really very funny.......how can people say that a browser is a search engine !!

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  35. The strange thing is that Mac users aren't the least bit better at this, despite the OS being much more application-centric than Windows.

    The dock has one big icon per app instead of small ones per window in the taskbar. The upper left corner of the screen always has the app name in bold.

    Doesn't help, the average user clicks around until finding a window that looks familiar and have no idea which programm it belongs to.

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  36. I worked in tech support until my husband took a job in a new town and I couldn't find similar work right away; my new job did not involve tech and not everyone knew my background. A colleague was taking me on the usual tour of the office and he explained that "you get on the internet with the blue thing on the normal screen" (meaning the IE shortcut on the Windows desktop). I didn't even know what to say, so I just tell that story to fellow tech geeks.

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  37. Isn't it a shame that people use something without the slightest idea what they are doing? If you judge the computer using population by their computer skills you find that they are idiots! And they world is ruled by information technologie. And they don't even know that! Scary, scary, scary …

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  38. The more shocking part of this post is that anyone actually uses Chrome. lol...

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  39. Watch this if you are able to understand some german. Kids interview politicians for a kids tv-station. The woman is Germanys attorney general, she did not know what a browser is when the kids asked her...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X92GtG1G_hY

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    Replies
    1. your point? Computers and all they contain, all they do, is a tool. A rose by any other name ... . Were these famous words among those penned by one man or several? Does it matter? Engine, smengine; browser, schnauzer. These days misinformation and information are synonymous, it's all in the spin. Only the techies care, the rest of us just want to use the tool.

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  40. I have clients now who can't differentiate between a browser's "address bar" and a search engine's text field (i.e., google search). They don't even realize you can type a URL into an address bar directly.

    Echoing comments above, many people don't seem to understand the difference between a system file browser ("windows explorer" or mac's "finder") and a file browsing dialogue in an application.

    It is kind of a generational thing though, in my experience.

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  41. I was trying to help someone register for a service, and I had a very simple URL for him to use. Just type it in, it's very short and the registration was just as straightforward. It took over 21 minutes to get this person there because they would not just type it in the address bar. Twenty-one minutes of "What do I click on? Can I search for it in Google and get it that way?" Then I realized that they didn't know what an address bar was. I ended teaching them how to find and use it. Ugh.

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  42. I wonder if anybody watched this and had a little revelation. lol. congratulations to you, welcome to the internet.

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  43. Many people cannot even differentiate between "going online" and "starting a browser". They believe that clicking on the IE icon (that's the browser they're using, of course) will somehow get them on the internet. They do not grasp the concept of a network connection with web surfing being only one of the countless ways to use it.

    I find it strange that some people cannot seem to understand this concept. I've tried each and every way of explaining it to them, but it's like talking to a wall. It just doesn't get through.

    I don't expect them to become experts in network technology, but I think it is possible to understand the difference between a browser and a network connection. But these people also often have difficulties with abstracting and applying their knowledge to similar problems.

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  44. @Anonymous (7/11 6:24 AM PDT)

    AOL is almost certainly complicit in this. In the days of dial-up, America Online was the sole experience of thousands of people. They opened an application which then connected to the internet (audibly), and then they were free to do all sorts of things. Many of them never made use of AOL's actual browser, but rather only its web apps; and show them that, once connected, they were free to use other software, like IE or Netscape, and they'd be astonished.

    So, the modern extrapolation of this (the internet isn't on unless the browser is open) should come as no suprise.

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  45. The computer is the internet, the internet is the web, the web is the browser, the browser is the search engine. kthanx.

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  46. Well most people start their browser at work and then see the big google logo appear as it is the start page. The confusion is no surprise...

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  47. ever since reading this, i ask people i meet, whats a browser? my 14yr old cousin doesn't know. my 30-some yr. old aunt doesn't know... my mom thinks i use ie. i use chrome. its just u cant "uninstall" ie. :(

    What is a browser?
    cousin: a webpage...
    aunt: i don't know... (at least shes honest)

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  48. It is pretty amazing that so many people don't know what a browser is. I guess they are too sheltered from the internet and technology.

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  49. I this this advertisement would work - Fuck you buy us -

    My mom runs ubuntu, I am so proud of her.

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  50. Browser is entirely different from a search engine.

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  51. Very depressing, actually. Likely, the people interviewed know a lot about shopping, or television...so I guess they're didn't just crawl out of a cave.

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  52. I got onto this site with a question, "is a search engine a browser?" because I DON'T KNOW. But do I get help to try and understand and learn about what I do not know? Heavens no, just a bunch of derision about how stupid I am and how superior all you tech-savvy people are to the vast un-washed masses out there. How about trying to think back to the time when you had a teacher who really wanted to impart to you the knowledge that he/she had rather than calling you a stupid kid and lording over you their superior knowledge. Goodbye. PS. Too bad you lost the ability to capitalize and punctuate as well as how to teach.

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  53. @ Alex Chitu

    Not knowing doesn't make you dumb.

    However, answering when not knowing certainly can have an undesirable effect.

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  54. @Alex Chitu
    I searched google and found the wikipedia page for Igor Stravinsky. In fact, I'd say the internet and computers are part of many people's daily lives.
    Igor Stravinsky, on the other hand, is not. I can't name an important work by him, because he's neither as contemporary, or impactful to modern life as the internet. Whereas he had a huge impact on music, the internet's impact has stretched beyond just affecting technology.

    In regards all the "people not in IT don't know this stuff" talk, I'm not in IT, and I know it. I just called my mom, and she knows it. I'm pretty sure the large majority of my friends know it. I support the anonymous@1-14-10 (two comments above me) who made an attempt to learn more.

    Ignorance is not stupidity, but willful ignorance is just dumb.

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  55. After all that WHAT IS A BROWSER AND WHERE DO I FIND IT? can people not simply answer the question??

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  56. The computer is the internet, the internet is the web, the web is the browser, the browser is the search engine. kthanx.

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  57. Dumb people, ugh. This is why I think there should be mandatory education about this. It would hopefully keep people from falling for clever advertising and from destroying the internet and the industry for those of us to whom it matters.

    Dumb people are a problem. Uneducated ones are less so, but still a problem.

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  58. HELL YEAH! THAT ONE GUY'S FRIEND DID HIM A DAMN GOOD FAVOR! GO FIREFOX!

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  59. Arrogance is even worse. Just because you are lucky enough to be good at something does NOT give you the right to become a self-righteous pain in the ass, as most computer geeks I've met seem to be. Your Sheldons are trying our patience severely.

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  60. Lmao, wow. I'm shaking my head as I watch this.

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  61. What you would say about the app for iPad "Google Search". It's a browser or a search engine? It doesn't use Safari to show the pages!

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  62. Yes, it does use an embedded browser to show search results, but that's not important. It's an iPad app for Google Search, not a browser or a search engine.

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  63. Still don't know the difference. Wish at least one person could have posted a correct definition in just one or two sentences. At least I'm smart enough to go to another site for the answer...

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  64. Oh man this is classic.

    For the Anonymous people wanting to know the actual answer. A search engine is to a web browser what a directory assistance call is to a telephone. You use your telephone to connect to the directory assistance operator who you ask to find you a telephone number. You use your web browser program to connect to Google who you ask to find you a web site. If you already know the telephone number, you just type it into the telephone. Likewise, if you already know the web site address (ex. facebook.com), you can just type it into your web browser rather than having to ask Google to find it for you.

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  65. I've often seen non-technical users, when they want to open a website, search in the bing bar on IE for "google", click the Google link, type the web address into Google and search for it. Recently I heard that the most common Bing search phrase is "Google" - not suprising.

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