Eating your own dog food
Eating your own dog food, also called dogfooding, is a slang term used to reference a scenario in which a company (usually, a computer software company) uses its own product to demonstrate the quality and capabilities of the product.
Dogfooding can be a way for a company to demonstrate confidence in its own products. The idea is that if the company expects customers to buy its products, it should also be willing to use those products. Hence dogfooding can act as a kind of testimonial advertising.[dead link]
InfoWorld commented that this needs to be transparent and honest: "watered-down examples, such as auto dealers' policy of making salespeople drive the brands they sell, or Coca-Cola allowing no Pepsi products in corporate offices ... are irrelevant." In this sense, a corporate culture of not supporting the competitor is not the same as a philosophy of "eating your own dog food". The latter focuses on the functional aspects of the company's own product. Compare this to fictional cases where Google employees used Microsoft Outlook to execute the functional task of sending emails, or Microsoft employees writing documents with WordPerfect.
One perceived advantage beyond marketing is that dogfooding allows employees to test their company's products in real-life scenarios, and gives management a sense of how the product will be used, all before launch to consumers. In software development, the practice of dogfooding with build branches, private (or buddy) builds, and private testing can allow several validation passes before the code is integrated with the normal daily builds. The practice leads to more stable builds, and proactive resolution of potential inconsistency and dependency issues, especially when several developers or teams work on the same product. For example, the websites of the Wikimedia Foundation engage in this sort of build testing, with the public stable branches of MediaWiki being based off public betatesting of the Wikimedia alpha builds between stable releases. In fact, these same builds are made accessible to the public alongside the stable, proven builds so that the public may become as involved in beta testing the MediaWiki software as the official development staff.
The risks of public dogfooding, specifically that a company may have difficulties using its own products, may reduce the frequency of publicized dogfooding.
Origin of the term
The editor of IEEE Software recounts that in the 1970s television advertisements for Alpo dog food, Lorne Greene pointed out that he fed Alpo to his own dogs. Another possible origin is the president of Kal Kan Pet Food, who was said to eat a can of his dog food at shareholders' meetings.
In 1988, Microsoft manager Paul Maritz sent Brian Valentine, test manager for Microsoft LAN Manager, an email titled "Eating our own Dogfood", challenging him to increase internal usage of the company's product. From there, the usage of the term spread through the company.
Apple Computer president Michael Scott in 1980 wrote a memo announcing that "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc." by the computer company, with a goal to eliminate typewriters by 1 January 1981.
The development of Windows NT at Microsoft involved over 200 developers in small teams, and it was held together by Dave Cutler's insistence in February 1991 on dogfooding, developing the operating system on computers running on NT using a daily build, initially text only, then with graphics, and finally with networking. It was initially crash prone, but the immediate feedback of code breaking the build, the loss of pride, and the knowledge of impeding the work of others were all powerful incentives. Infoworld reported in 2005 that a tour of Microsoft's network operations center "showed pretty much beyond a reasonable doubt that Microsoft does run its 20,000-plus node, international network on 99 percent Windows technology, including servers, workstations, and edge security." InfoWorld argued that "Microsoft's use of Windows for its high-traffic operations tipped many doubters over to Windows' side of the fence". In the mid-1990s, Microsoft's internal email system was initially developed around Unix. When asked why, they publicly moved to using Microsoft Exchange. An email storm known as the Bedlam DL3 incident in 1997 allowed Microsoft to build more robust features in Microsoft Exchange Server to avoid lost and duplicate emails and network and server down-time, although dogfooding is rarely so dramatic. A second email storm in 2006 was perfectly handled by the system.
On 1 June 2011, YouTube added a license feature to its video uploading service allowing users to choose between a standard or Creative Commons license. The license label was followed by the message (Shh! - Internal Dogfood) that appeared on all YouTube videos lacking commercial licensing. A YouTube employee confirmed that this referred to products that are tested internally.
Criticism and alternative terms
Forcing those who design products to actually use and rely on them is often thought to improve quality and usability, but software developers may be blind to usability and may have knowledge to make software work that an end user will lack. Microsoft's chief information officer noted in 2008 that, previously, "We tended not to go through the actual customer experience. We were always upgrading from a beta, not from production disk to production disk." Dogfooding may happen too early to be viable, and those forced to use the products may assume that someone else has reported the problem or they may get used to applying workarounds. Dogfooding may be unrealistic, as customers will always have a choice of different companies' products to use together, and the product may not be being used as intended. The process can lead to a loss of productivity and demoralisation, or at its extreme to "Not Invented Here syndrome"; i.e., only using internal products.
In 2007, the CIO of Pegasystems said that she uses the alternate phrase "drinking our own champagne". Novell's head of public relations Bruce Lowry, commenting on his company's use of Linux and OpenOffice.org, said that he also prefers this phrase. In 2009, the new CIO of Microsoft, Tony Scott, argued that the phrase "dogfooding" was unappealing and should be replaced by "icecreaming", with the aim of developing products as "ice cream that our customers want to consume."
- Miguel Helft (December 12, 2009). "Google Appears Closer to Releasing Its Own Phone". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-12. "On Saturday morning, Google confirmed that it was testing a new concept in mobile phones, writing in a blog post that it was 'dogfooding' the devices, an expression that comes from the idea that companies should eat their own dog food, or use their own products."
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