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May 31, 2005

Teaching the AP (and Opera) about English Grammar - and not to Hide, or to hide behind Security

And so I'm not saying that the results are not believable - on the contrary, I'm sure they do very much represent the general ignorance of the public - but I have a necessary bunch of queries and caveats. It seems strange that the surely more detailed study cited doesn't seem to be readily available online - at least not to the extent where the AP links to it in the article, I can find it on the MyOpera fora, or it's on the Opera main page/press releases. My initial suspicion is that it feels like the study's been slipped to the AP, and Opera feels it can gloss over the journalists and the fact that Opera are the ones responsible for a study that makes claims beneficial to them.

My little tin-foil antennae get raised in particular by the evasive construction of this sentence - "Many American online computer users are unaware that choice of browser affects Internet security, and few switch browsers even when they know the risk, a Norwegian study said Monday".

English, by and large is a pretty simple language - sentence construction, most of the time, if you wish to be clear, consists of subject, verb, object - in that order. Within that formulation, you put the active party in the subject of the sentence - ie you say who is doing what. In the quoted sentence, the subject of the sentence is very ostentatiously tucked away at the end where no one will notice. The subject of the sentence is Opera Software, who have commissioned or conducted the sstudy. For some reason the AP is colluding with Opera in eliding the fact that Opera commissioned a study in their own interest. The sentence should read,

Opera software (subject) commissioned (verb) a study (object), which claims that many American online users etc. etc.

Don't you think that's the thing you want to not wait till the second paragraph to make clear? The reason you put the people who are doing things in the subject of a sentence is so you know who is doing what. I, did, this. In the original sentence, "American online computer users" are the subject of the clause, perhaps, but not of the sentence. The sentence is about the study, the sub-clause of which concerns the "users" - so those responsible for the survey should be the most active and prominently placed. If ever I would argue for clarity, in particular clarity of agency, this is it. The subject should be the responsible party.

Aside from this little sleight, I'd like to think that if Opera were serious about this, they would get an independent polling company to do their polling, or an academic institution to write their study - people who are expected to objectively present information, rather than Opera themselves. But even as it is, if Opera wants to do it themselves, and it's cheaper/better that way, I don't particularly take issue - as long as the study is made public and I can be assured that peer-review has taken place. "A Study" suggests to me an academic endeavour that can be cited as an authority. Where has this been published? Does it have any association with an academic institution? Surely this is just the top-sheet results - where is the detailed data, in particular the polling model used, the assumptions presumed, the questions asked.

It's not that I don't believe them, and experience tells me that the figures they state are as accurate as you might expect - but when you do things, you do things properly, lest you do a big thing badly. And you choose the right person or organisation to present your message.

Opera's supporters should not a) propagate information this is not true, verified and credible (like the BSA, for instance) b) spread FUD where there is none c) accept all positive(-ish) press about Opera as "good" press.

Opera is a good enough browser that silly tricks - such as over-stating the danger of insecure browsers - is not (should not be) necessary. *I* trust that Opera is safe - that is *my* assertion, my endorsement. But IE 6 for XP (and XP only) is not *that* much more insecure to the point where there is imminent danger for all who use it and keep it patched.

Also, you do not put all your eggs in one basket - if your product is *only* Secure, you dig your own hole - eventually there will be flaws, and at that point you loose your message and credibility. When you preach only Security, you end up like FireVole, or worse, Netscape - hounded by every security flaw that's inevitably found. Then, there is no place to hide - in language, or elsewhere.

Posted by subtitles at May 31, 2005 6:38 AM | Opera Boggling


"I'd like to think that if Opera were serious about this, they would get an independent polling company to do their polling"

Yeah, such as Harris Interactive? From the press release:

"In March 2005 Opera Software commissioned Harris Interactive to survey 2800 individuals within the US adult online population."

Posted by: knocknock [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2005 11:22 PM

Hi, keep up - I trackback my posts for a reason. There was a decided gap in time between the press story getting out and the press release with details being made available.

That's what dates are for. Bite that, fanboy.

Posted by: subtitles [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 2, 2005 2:58 AM