I wrote in October about a 1980 memo, reflecting a decision by Apple's then-CEO, Michael Scott (yes, same name as Steve Carell's character in The Office), that was "circulated" to the company's employees:
"NO MORE TYPEWRITERS."
This was a big deal at the time because, well, everyone used typewriters. (I like thinking that the memo must have been typed and copied, and handed out in hard copy.) Back then, the Apple II had only been introduced a few years before; the first version of Microsoft Word wouldn't be released for three more years.
But as I wrote at the time: Scott (and Steve Jobs, too) were sharing a compelling message: "If you're not willing to eat your own dog food, so to speak, why should customers try it?"
Hold that thought. Because soon after I wrote about Apple's old memo, an employee at Google, who asked to remain nameless, contacted me to say I should really think about another article:
"If one company is amazing at this concept, it's Google. We have a concept called 'dogfood' and 'fishfood' where we heavily use consumer-facing and internal-facing products ourselves on a day-to-day basis well before a beta release."
The concept of dogfooding isn't unique to Google of course, but I was struck that a reader would take the time to reach out and evangelize for his company like that.
(Fishfooding is basically an earlier stage of the same idea -- using a pre-launch product within a team, versus an entire company.)
Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed the Google Testing Blog, written by another Google employee, reflecting on the product development and release process at Google:
We have a large ecosystem of development/office tools and use them for nearly everything we do. Because we use them on a daily basis, we can dogfood releases company-wide before launching to the public.
These dogfood versions often have features unavailable to the public but may be less stable. ... Dogfooding is an important part of our test process. Test teams do their best to find problems before dogfooding, but we all know that testing is never perfect.
Not surprisingly, test-focused engineers often have a lot to say during the dogfood phase. I don't think there is a single public-facing product that I have not reported bugs on.
Among the products cited by the Google engineer, Anthony Vallone, were Google Drive, Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, Maps, Groups, Sites, App Engine, Chrome -- and, let's have a moment of silence -- Google+.
As that last reference shows, the post was from a few years ago. So, I reached out to Google corporate, which confirmed it's still a big part of the process. Given that Google has now had 21 years of experience to learn how to release new products, it makes sense.
A spokesperson for Google also provided a more recent example, describing how Googlers used Dark Mode for Gmail before releasing it in beta to the world last month:
Dark Mode "went through some critical dogfood feedback. For instance, originally the emails themselves still had white backgrounds even when the Dark theme was turned on, which wasn't an ideal user experience for reading, composing or replying to emails."
It reminds me of a joke -- kind of a funny-because-it's-true thing. I'll have to update it a bit to make it work:
If you spend a lot of time on Instagram, you're a millennial. Spend time on Facebook? You're old. Spend time TikTok? You're likely Gen Z.
And if you spend a lot of time on Google+, you probably work for Google.
Of course, the Google+ reference dates the joke a bit. Perhaps not coincidentally, a 2011 analysis -- less than six months after that product launched -- found that Google's founders, then-CEO, senior management, and the entire corporate board -- barely used it.
"One of the most important rules in software is to eat your own dog food," as Ben Parr wrote at Mashable at the time. Perhaps somebody should tell that to Google's senior management, because the people in it are not eating their own dog food when it comes to Google+."
It looks like the company has learned its lesson. Call that one the exception that proves the rule. And perhaps expect that before you use basically anything new from Google, it's been used like dog food by people within the company.