Dogfooding: It is a funny word with a serious meaning. To dogfood is to use your own product or service just as you expect your customers to do. It is a shortening of the expression, “eat your own dogfood." From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense. That is why it still comes as a shock when major companies are exposed for not practicing it.
One of the most prominent examples of this was when Eric Schmidt recently admitted to still carrying a Blackberry phone. He is currently the executive chairman of Google, the Android maker. Even as CEO of Google, Schmidt still famously used a Blackberry. Before moving to iPod touch systems, Apple was using Windows Mobile handhelds as the mobile POS systems in their retail stores. When he was CEO of Blackberry (RIM at the time), Thorsten Heinz used an Android phone.
While all these examples reflect poorly on the companies in question, something very similar happens on a small scale in developer labs all over the world. Brilliant developers design and publish apps without having a clear idea of how it will play among consumers. This happens when the developer does not use and live with his app in the same way he hopes consumers will. It is not so much that he is using similar apps by other developers. It is just that he is not using his apps like normal users.
Take Note of How They Use It
When you dogfood your app, you are particularly mindful of every little detail of the user experience. Is the app icon descriptive and appealing? Is it easy to spot on a crowded home screen? Is the app name easy to search? Once you touch the icon, does the app launch quickly? Are there annoying popups to deal with?
Once inside the app, where is the first place your eye is drawn? What is the first thing you tap? Are the options too confusing? The list of things you can learn by just using the app is endless. Even more valuable is to see how your experience as a developer matches up with real user experience data.
There products that provide developers with end-user experience analytics. For instance, Appsee.com (mobile app analytics) offers a product that allows you to:
Watch every action your users do and understand exactly how they use your app, which problems they’re experiencing and how to fix them. It enables you to see the app through your users’ eyes.
That capability can help you avoid confirmation bias, and make sure your dogfooding experience is in step with the experience of real users.
Find the Bugs Before You Ship
Just a few weeks ago, Apple launched the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Together, these phones combined to sell over ten million units in the first weekend of availability. This massive success came as no surprise to the company. The first 24 hours of pre-orders topped four million. They had to delay HealthKit, a major software feature. When it finally shipped about a week later, it damaged about forty thousand handsets, all iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
It seems the only phones not thoroughly tested were the new ones about which the world was all abuzz. Somewhere along the way, update testers were not able to dogfood with the new models. Had a representative group of iPhone 6 testers actually gone through the update procedure, this fiasco could have been avoided. Dogfooding allows you to find the bugs before you ship.
Dogfood for the Whole Family
Finally, test your product on the people you love. Let your loved ones use your product and see what they have to say. See how they use it, and what problems they run into. If you wouldn’t want your family to use it, you should probably rethink releasing it to someone else’s family.
That is the essence of dogfooding. It is offering to the public what you deem to be good enough for you and those you care about. It is living with the benefits and limitations of your offering. It is the key to effective product testing. Bon appétit