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11/17/2008
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Hurtful Google Docs Study Tied To Ex-Microsoft Employees

The ClickStream report suggests that a mere 1% of U.S. adult Internet users used Google Docs, while Microsoft Office is in use by more than 50% of adult U.S. Internet users.

On Friday, ClickStream Technologies published a study claiming that "use of free productivity applications such as Google Docs and OpenOffice remains low, while Microsoft Office is in use by over 50% of adult U.S. internet users and shows no signs of declining popularity."

The 5-year-old technology metrics company reported that a mere 1% of U.S. adult Internet users used Google Docs, based on its study of 2,400 U.S. adult Internet users who agreed to install the company's data-collection software.

However, the study has come into question this week because two former Microsoft employees are involved in the company that fielded the study.

In 2006, Google published a report claiming that the risk of click fraud is overstated by click-fraud auditing companies. Shuman Ghosemajumder, Google's business product manager for trust and safety, posted at length about problems with click-fraud statistics from such companies.

On Sunday, Matt Cutts, head of Google's Web spam team, took issue with ClickStream's findings in a blog post. He suggested that the sample size is low, that the tech-savvy, affluent sort who use Google Docs are probably underrepresented in the ClickStream study because they "are probably less likely to agree to click-monitoring in exchange for cash and prizes," and that the high proportion of female respondents (more than 65%) doesn't agree with the overall percentage of female Internet users (52%) and thus suggests sampling errors.

Cutts said that Compete estimated that Google Docs received 4.4 million visitors in September, which he said is slightly less than 2.4% of the U.S. online population.

In a comment on Cutts' blog, Roy Schestowitz, a doctoral candidate in medical biophysics at Manchester University, free software advocate, and co-editor of BoycottNovell.com, linked to a post on his site that offered an additional explanation for the findings: Two of ClickStream's employees, CEO and co-founder Cameron Turner and senior research analyst Kim Anderson, used to work at Microsoft.

"What a splendid illustration of the dangers of having former Microsoft employees spread all over the place to potentially assist their former employer," Schestowitz said in a blog post. "So, Microsoft will approach managers and present this study (never mind who conducted it and what interests were at play) to warn that Google is not catching on. How familiar a story. Classic."

Microsoft had nothing to do with the ClickStream study, a company spokesperson said.

"The findings relating to OpenOffice, Google Docs, and Microsoft Office were based on an independent study, not funded by Microsoft, of U.S. home PC users from ClickStream’s internal panel," ClickStream CEO Cameron Turner said in an e-mailed statement. "This panel, funded solely by ClickStream, is and will continue to be used to conduct independent research on the application and internet usage behavior of users in the U.S. and worldwide. ClickStream would never falsify data for any reason, nor would we deceive the press and public by falsely labeling sponsored research as independent research. Our patented data-collection technologies are unmatched in the area of application and Internet usage, and we look forward to observing how all companies respond to concepts such as open source, cloud computing, and platform-independent productivity."

Of course, the charge that ClickStream isn't neutral here can be leveled at all parties concerned. The more effective way to answer the ClickStream study would be for Google to reveal the number of people using Google Docs. But the company won't do that.

What Google will say is this: "Google Docs has millions of active users and hosts tens of millions of documents," a Google spokesperson said. "It has seen strong and steady growth every month since it launched two years ago as people have increasingly shifted to the cloud in order to access and collaborate on documents online."

Google has argued in the past that Google Docs isn't intended to compete directly with Microsoft Word, an application that has been around more than two decades and has hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

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