Last week Google updated several of its Android apps. While there’s nothing unusual about that, what was out of the ordinary was an interesting little “bone” icon where YouTube’s “Play” icon normally resides. Additionally, a new menu and settings were available under the heading of “Dogfood”.
As Pocketnow’s Stephen Schenck pointed out, “When employees of a company run not-yet-released versions of their own software in order to try and spot bugs, we call that ‘dogfooding'”, or “eating your own dog food”.
According to one of my college professors, back in the 1970’s actor Lorne Greene starred in a series of commercials for Alpo dog food.
Paid celebrity endorsements weren’t new then, nor are they now. However, in addition to selling you on Alpo, Greene reportedly said Alpo was the brand he fed his own dogs. That’s literally putting your money where your mouth is — well, your dog’s mouth anyway.
There are other examples regarding dog food specifically, but what does it have to do with software?
The update Google pushed to the YouTube app for Android last week showed that the software giant subscribes the the philosophy of “dogfooding” their products, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, nor is Google alone in the practice.
When applied, dogfooding provides employees with the latest versions of software and even hardware to use. After all, if the people designing, developing, and selling any particular product don’t actually use it, they are out of touch with their customers and end-users.
How would you feel about buying a Ford from a high-pressure car salesperson, only to find out the salesperson put his or her own money behind a brand new Volkswagen?
Don’t get me wrong, both companies make a fine vehicle, but are you really going to trust a Volkswagen driver to sell you a Ford? Similarly, would a Pepsi executive be doing that brand a disservice by drinking Coke in public?
While not a specific or formal part of the development life cycle, the practice of dogfooding helps make both the software as well as the hardware we use that much better. With software, dogfooding is less about public impressions than it is about another round of testing. When developers are working on a new release, especially if it includes new or experimental features. The theory is that by “encouraging” developers to use the products they’re building, they’ll be able to find bugs and other issues, as well as bring new ideas to the table on potential changes and improvements.
YouTube for Android dog food explained
In the case of the “dot two six” build of YouTube for Android, it was a “dogfood” release, no question. It was released accidentally, but other than giving us a peak into how product development at Google works, and some potential new features, there wasn’t any harm done.
Not long after the snafu was discovered, Google pushed out build “dot two seven” with all the dogfood bits hidden away.
So if you ever hear about a developer “eating their own dogfood”, rather than being disgusted, go up and extend a friendly handshake, and thank him or her for using their own software to make sure your user experience is all that much better.