I regularly use both Chrome and Firefox for my browsing needs, and on occasion, Edge as well. Without benchmarking the three, I’d be hard pressed to say which one is truly the fastest—it feels like page loads are about the same, for the most part. It may not matter, though. New research suggests people are prone to believe what they read about a browser’s performance, regardless of which one actually performs the best.
That’s not to say a person could be fooled into thinking a much slower browser is the fastest one. Instead, the authors of the research paper (via The Register) suggest that with “technical performance being similar” between today’s most popular browsers, “improving user perceived performance is integral to optimizing browser quality.”
In other words, if developers can make people think their browser is superior, it can potentially have a bigger impact than any minor gains from actual under-the-hood tweaks.
“Our findings demonstrate how perceived performance can be improved without making technical improvements and that designers and developers must consider a wider picture when trying to improve user attitudes about technology,” the paper states.
It’s an interesting theory, and it was researched by Jess Hohenstein, a research scientist at Cornell University, and several people with ties to Mozilla, including Bill Selman, Gemma Petrie, Jofish Kaye, and Rebecca Weiss.
As part of the study, the researchers rounded up 1,495 participants, many of which arrived with the preconceived notion that Chrome is faster than Firefox, rather than the other way around (nearly 39 percent versus 30.5 percent). Not surprisingly, participants tended to recommend the browser they perceived as faster or otherwise had a preference to using.
After presenting participants with online articles touting performance improvements in Firefox, they were 18 percent more likely to “endorse Firefox as faster.”
“In our study, we primed users to influence the perceived performance of web browsers through an online survey. We found that reading priming messages about Mozilla Firefox improved participants’ perceived performance of Firefox over Google Chrome, suggesting a potential opportunity for smaller companies to compete against large companies with an established brand,” the researchers concluded.
Mozilla obviously has a vested interest in figuring out ways to influence public perception, with regards to browser choice. Looking at market share figures from StatCounter, Firefox is roughly neck-and-neck with Edge, with each claiming a less than 3.5 percent stake, versus Chrome at nearly 64 percent (Safari sits at 19 percent).
In addition, Mozilla CEO Chris Beard was an outspoken critic of Microsoft’s decision to overhaul Edge to Chromium, the same engine Google uses for Chrome. When Microsoft announced the then-pending change a few years ago, Beard wrote in a blog post that doing so would give “Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us,” and called the decision “terrible.”