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chowing down

Eating one's own dog food

To say that a company "eats its own dog food" means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. "Dogfooding" is a means of conveying the company's confidence in its own products.

The idea originated in television commercials for Alpo brand dog food; actor Lorne Greene would tout the benefits of the dog food, and then would say it's so good that he feeds it to his own dogs. 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 product; from there, the usage of the term spread through Microsoft, as chronicled in the book Inside Out: Microsoft—In Our Own Words (ISBN 0446527394). The phrase became slang during the dot-com craze, and is used most commonly in reference to technology companies.

Using one's own products has four primary benefits:

  1. The product's developers are familiar with using the products they develop.
  2. The company's members have direct knowledge and experience with its products.
  3. Users see that the company has confidence in its own products.
  4. Technically savvy users in the company, with perhaps a very wide set of business requirements and deployments, are able to discover and report bugs in the products before they are released to the general public.

A disadvantage is that if taken to an extreme, a company's desire to eat its own dog food can turn into Not Invented Here syndrome, in which the company refuses to use any product which was not developed in-house.

Examples of the concept

Sy Sperling, president of the Hair Club for Men, ran commercials featuring the catchphrase "I'm not just the president, I'm also a client!"

In January 2006, the manager of Ford Motor Company's Dearborn, Michigan plant announced only Ford- or subsidiary-built vehicles were allowed to park in the plant lots in an effort to encourage auto workers to drive the vehicles they manufacture.

An example of dogfooding from the service sector is Kaiser Permanente's decision that many employees and their dependents would be involuntarily enrolled to their new Self-funded health care product at the time it became available.

In the development process at Mozilla, fine details needing extra polish for an imminent Netscape release would be tagged catfood, to indicate a dish fit for a fussier creature.

In many development environments, to "eat [one's] own dog food" refers to a point at which a product under development is delivered, even in its rough state, to all on the project for use. Particularly in software development, early versions of the product may contain many bugs, crash, lose data or otherwise be unusable, and the people on the project team do not fully rely on it for its intended purpose. As the product matures, members of the team are reluctant to try it, having been burned by a faulty "not ready for prime time" version. In extreme cases, management may issue a dictate that everyone in the organization is to "eat their own dog food" (meaning, for example, "use the latest version of our in-house email program"), as a way of verifying that the product works under real-world conditions. It is often the source of comic chagrin among workers when such a dictate comes earlier than is practical (if, for example, the in-house email program can not yet send email).

Thomas Siebel of Siebel Systems refined the term "eating your own dog food" to "sipping your own champagne" as a more pleasant way to describe the process of corporate self-testing.

The term "dogfooding" is still in use within Microsoft as shown in this November, 2007 blog by Anav from the Messenger for Mac product development team. She refers to using the product internally, saying, "The AV solution for the Corporate service is really cool. I'm dogfooding the feature at work and I’m using a video conversation with co-workers using Office Communicator on Windows."

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