Everyone knows that Apple is a minority in the computing market. Estimates of a market share of around 3 per cent are common, and even at the height of its early success, I don’t think Apple ever got much further than a 10 per cent market share.

Sometimes this information can be a bit of a downer. It’s all well and good to be the underdog, but 3 per cent can look close to extinction. Even with the burgeoning iPod halo effect, and PC switchers buying Mac minis in droves, the numbers aren’t changing very much.

Statistics are funny things, though, you can prove anything if you play around with the statistics long enough. It’s just a matter of definition, segmentation, averaging out and a little creative mathematics. To make things more difficult, however, Apple is very reluctant to say exactly how many computers it is selling and where. The company feels it has little to gain by letting the competition know where it’s strongest, where profit is being made, and so on, so any totally accurate measurements are impossible to state.

However, if the figures that we do have are to be believed, for every Mac, there are 32 PCs. I suppose that sounds reasonable, but it isn’t what I see when I look around me. Maybe Macs are more visible than PCs, or maybe people just talk about them more. I wonder what would happen to the statistics if you were to limit computers included to the ones where the user actually made the choice of platform. I know that’s unrealistic, but don’t you think that the people using PCs in banks would rather be sat in front of a Mac.

Finding the right way to segment the Mac market is tricky, though. How can you do a survey that demonstrates that there are more Mac people out there using their computers for every day stuff? It’s a difficult, almost impossible task, but I think I might have a solution.

Anybody with a Web site can run statistics to show what percentage of visitors are using what operating system. I have a blog with just such a system, and I find that I get a fairly consistent 17-19 per cent of OS X system users visiting the site. You might think that it’s because I write about Macs on my blog, but I don’t (I get enough of that at work). No it’s about art and science, which perhaps might appeal to the more Mac-centric user, but still, a minimum of 17 per cent of users are using OS X. That’s a far cry from the quoted 2-3.5 per cent of Macs that are apparently in the world. By the way, I’m not going to mention the address of my blog – I want to keep the statistics balanced.

So what can we do with the information that 17 per cent of people looking at a blog are using a Mac (and not just any old Mac either, an up-to-date OS X Mac)? Well, at first I felt good because it just makes more sense to me. Doing the job that I do, I can’t help but be skewed, into having more Mac-using friends than usual. But even when I meet people in situations unrelated to work, I still find more Mac users than the tiny percentage I should see. My Open University classhas 16 people in it, and there are three or four Mac users, including my tutor. It just doesn’t add up if you use the normally quoted figures for market share. If you think the numbers are skewed because of the course I’m taking, I doubt it. It’s a business course, so if anything it should be more biased towards the PC. I suppose one answer could be that the people we see using Macs are also using PCs.

Despite the number of Mac-using students at the Open University, it only this month quoted the tiny Mac market share as a reason for limited support for Macs. It just made me think that every other Web site, online bank and software developer obviously looks at the same apparently rational statistics and decides not to support the Mac. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you don’t support Macs you’ll get fewer Mac users on your site. If you build in compatibility, you might find your visitor levels go up 17 per cent. Surely that’s worth thinking about for any business.

One of the frustrating things is that there isone organization that has a very good idea of how many active, up-to-date, broadband-equipped Mac users are in the world. It also could quite easily figure out where, and in some cases who, the Mac users are. Apple serves upregular updates to its operating system and most active online users will download them. Some big organizations might download once to install on many machines. But it is just as easy to set each machine to download directly from Apple. So Apple must know how many times an update gets downloaded. I suspect it is rather a lot more than the number of copies of OS X sold, which might be a reason to keep it quiet. Unlike Windows, OS X has no real copy protection. Another reason might be that if Apple does say how many users there are, the PC competition will drum up a lot of fictitious numbers and estimates to belittle the Mac slice. The fact of the matter is that statistics can be used for good and evil.

So what I’d like to know is how many Mac visitors do Web sites get? Obviously, it will depend on the content of the site. But it would be interesting to see, for example, how many Mac people visit the BBC News online. Even small Web sites can make interesting reading, though. So, what sites attract more Mac people, and what sites attract PC users? If you take the tech Web sites out of the equation you could get a good insight into the activities of Mac and PC people. Are PC people more likely to be train-spotters, or are Mac people less hip than we like to think? Do adult sites attract certain platforms, or gossip sites, or ring-tone sites?

I’m not sure what the real story is here. But I would find it fascinating to know the statistics for what operating system users are on for different Web sites.

If you have a Web site and wouldn’t mind sharing yourstats with me (and the rest of the world, potentially), I’d love to hear from you. Just note down the subject of your site, and what percentage of readers are using OS X and send it to [email protected]