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Bill Bennett


Argumentum ad populum doesn’t work for tech

Argumentum ad populum is a fancy Latin term for a logical fallacy. It refers to an appeal to popular opinion to win an argument.

The idea behind it is if most people think something is true, then it must be true.

It turns up often with technology: Eight in ten buyers choose Android. The implication is this means Android must be better than iOS or Windows Phone.

The obvious flaw with argumentum ad populum is that many people agreeing on something doesn’t make it true. Until the renaissance most people thought the Sun revolved around the Earth. The idea was popular, not true.

Eight out of ten cats prefer Whiskas

If eight out of ten phone buyers choose Android, it doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice. It does make it the most popular one.

Likewise if everyone in the airport business lounge is working on an Apple MacBook, that doesn’t make it the best laptop choice. It makes it the most popular choice in that business lounge.

Advertising ofter feeds off Argumentum ad populum. Older readers might remember Eight out of ten cats prefer Whiskas.

Argumentum ad populum is all about the wisdom of crowds. The idea that many people are more likely to be right than any given individual.

They may be. The key word here is may.

There’s also implied peer pressure. People like to conform. They like to feel they are on the winning side.


Things get complicated because in the tech sector popularity has advantages.

A popular phone OS will have a vibrant and useful app store. Popularity makes for a large and useful peer support network.

You’d hear the whinges quick enough if something isn’t right with a popular product. Think of what happened to Microsoft with the unloved Windows 8.

Popularity should mean greater product sales and an opportunity for economies of scale. In turn that could mean lower prices. There’s a virtuous circle effect here as lower prices lead to greater popularity.

Buying a popular phone, or any other tech product, has advantages. Just don’t confuse popularity with quality.



3 thoughts on “Argumentum ad populum doesn’t work for tech

  1. If you want ‘good’ Android, stay away from the wisdom of crowds. My old Samsung S3, at the point I sold it for 80 bucks, was better than my new S6. Why? Because the new S6 has a whole lot of built in Samsung crap, while the old S3 was rooted and had Cyanogenmod, a more or less ‘vanilla’ Android, on it. The S3 was therefore easier to use, better because it had on it only what I wanted to have on it, and faster because it didn’t have the 1.5GB-odd of Samsung crapware weighing it down.
    So now I need to root the S6 and void my warranty. But in so doing, I will not be opting for the wisdom of crowds; this time round, I’m considering XtreStoLite, which, for the life of me, I cannot pronounce.

    1. Yes, that is one of my two main criticisms of Android (1). Pick up one iPhone and it acts the same as every other iPhone. Pick up an Android and it may be quite different from the last one you used. If I was to buy another Android phone, I’ve owned a few, I’d get a Nexus or another version with plain vanilla Android OS.

      (1) My other objection is the overall lack of privacy. After reading the terms and conditions, I feel Google should pay me to use one of these phones.

      1. That’s a valid criticism; though it doesn’t take long to set up a new Android to be much like the one it replaces (you do have to spend time disabling a whole bunch of second or third rate ‘built in’ rubbish).
        I don’t care a jot for privacy in the hands of Apple or Google or Microsoft. Them knowing stuff about me makes my life better and more convenient (and my peccadilloes, such as they are, are minor in the greater scheme of things!)

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