JARGONIST OCTOBER 28, 2013
Example: “Dude, they should have spent more time dogfooding that app! It barely works.”
Who uses it: Stanford students/hackers/generations of Microsoft employees
When tech behemoths like Apple and Google need to work the bugs out of their latest miracle creation, they want eyes on it, pronto. And that means everyone from the CEO to the lowliest intern is going to be eating a lot of dogfood.
“Eating your own dogfood,” or “dogfooding,” as it’s more commonly phrased, means using the software you make, often in beta form, to work out the kinks. The first recorded usage was in 1988, when Microsoft executive Paul Maritz was desperate for customers to try a new product and e-mailed a colleague, “We are going to have to eat our own dogfood and test the product ourselves.” They created an internal server called “\\dogfood” and sent it out to staff.
Dogfooding wasn’t the first idiom of its ilk—think “practice what you preach” and “you make your bed, you lie in it”—but it was newly crude. Legend has it the image is from old Alpo commercials, in which the actor Lorne Greene dishes up a can of beef chunks for his golden retriever. As tech got glitzier, executives wanted to appeal to buyers with something a little more gastronomique. A CIO at Microsoft tried to turn kibble into “icecreaming,” and Pegasystems said that it was “drinking our own champagne”—but neither stuck.
To 1990s programmers, the crunchier the dogfood, the better: They wanted to fix every glitch. In 2013, dogfooding is as much about keeping up appearances as weeding out flaws. Tech reporters take note when Google’s Eric Schmidt uses a Blackberry instead of an Android, for instance. And sometimes it goes too far. Facebook employees complain that official business is often conducted on messy Facebook group threads, and developers gripe about “Not Invented Here Syndrome,” in which higher-ups won’t let them borrow anyone else’s code. “Oh, dogfooding,” a Silicon resident might say with an eye roll. “I’m still working at Microsoft, and I try to hide my iPhone.”
Nora Caplan-Bricker is a staff writer at The New Republic.