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Lies, Damned Lies… and Public Relations

Supposedly, Mark Twain coined the phrase, “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies… and Statistics.” Had he lived long enough he would surely have expanded his list to include Public Relations — the professional discipline devoted to stretching truth to its breaking point. Which brings us to the Mozilla Foundation. I was always suspicious of the fact that they never made a big deal about the adoption rates for the Firefox browser — only numbers of downloads. Anyone with an ounce of brains knew that was meaningless: downloads don’t equal adoption and until very recently the only way you could update the software was by doing a full download, which could only inflate the numbers. What didn’t make sense was that despite the humongous download numbers they bandied about, the market share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on the Net continues to hover between 80 and 90% — just about mirroring the penetration of Windows on desktops worldwide.

Well, lo and behold, the Mozillers finally got around to [admitting] that 75% of people who ever downloaded Firefox abandoned it. Ouch! Gets you right in the pocket protector, doesn’t it? The “open source” solution to Microsoft’s dominant browser is finally dropping the PR charade and openly asking the community for input on how to increase adoption rates.

Speaking of PR, I’m always a little amazed that Google has been able to skate by on its obvious (to me, anyway) methods of promotion. Targeting an army of tech early adopters who are wary of blatant marketing, they very cagily avoid obvious promotion and advertising — but baby do they work that PR machine! To their credit, they have been very successful at creating good will among a population of notoriously prickly nerds by doing things like underwriting conferences like the [Personal Democracy Forum] and stoking anti-Microsoft fervor with the help of “independent” media channels like CNet and ZDNet. But, of course, there’s always a truth behind the PR — if you can find it.

Over-reliant on its single source of income (advertising), Google has made some feint attempts at expanding its product line into productivity apps designed, supposedly, to cut into Microsoft Office’s marketshare. There’s been practically zero adoption of these products by the business community but the tech press — dependent on companies like Google for their life lines to “news” — have been [promoting] them [non-stop]. So, you can imagine how surprised I was (not) when — at that very same conference mentioned above — I saw Kim Malone, of the Google AdSense team, giving a presentation using Powerpoint running on Windows! Not the souped up version of linux that people have said everyone at Google uses and not their homebrew Powerpoint competitor either!

Then, yesterday, I was looking at [this video] of a class on intro statistics being given at the Googleplex, and noticed that not only was the guy running the course using Windows and Powerpoint, he was recommending that Googlers use Excel because he didn’t trust either Open Office or Trix, the homebrew Excel competitor, to be able to do the simple stats calculations that the course required! The knowing giggles from the crowd in the room when he questioned the capabilities of Trix told me more about the viability of their “Office Killer” than any amount of overheated PR. Jeez, if you can’t get your own mutts to eat the dog food…

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