Eating our own dog food?

I've heard the call for us semantic technology researchers "to eat our own dog food" one too many times. Aside from the obvious problem with it (dog food? anyone?), I think those who call for us using our own technologies are often going a step too far. Read the rest of this rant for why.

People seem to be calling for "eating our own dog food" as if we were obliged to do so. We develop new technologies, we use them in the projects where they apply. Should our Web site be semantic? Should our internal management workflows be semantic and automated? We do semantic automation, after all. I've seen many who I suspect would naturally say yes.

I'd say "only when it makes sense, dudes!" My technologies (I work on Semantic Web Services, for those who haven't paid attention) are not easily applicable on our Web site or in our daily activities as a research institute; one could say that our daily operations are not in the scope for my technologies. Kinda similar to how I can't really fix my parents' computer.

People should "eat their own dog food" where it is the right tool for the job at hand; they may even want to jump through some hoops in order to showcase their technologies where it makes sense, even though it could, in the particular cases, be done cheaper and faster with pre-existing stuff (Perl?); but people should not be pushed to jump through those hoops.

Maybe those who call for others "to eat their own dog food" should just sit behind their keyboards, code it up themselves, and then ask "why do I have to show you that your stuff applies?" Or think twice before making it sound like others are dumb and incompetent.

BTW, are scientists and researchers in other fields (physics, biology, you name it) expected to eat their own dog food as much as computer scientists are?

Posted at 2221 on Tue, Jul 8, 2008 in category Work | TrackBack | Comments feed

Good points.

And yet, if we don't seize opportunities to put the technologies we are working on into practice, how shall we escape the charge that what we are saying to others is, in effect, "Do as I say, not as I do"?

When we began work on the Text Encoding Initiative, a large project to develop an SGML (now XML) vocabulary for use by scholars in the humanities, I suggested that all internal documents be written in SGML, preferably in an approximation of the tag set we were defining. Lou Burnard, my co-editor, argued that this was crazy, since (a) the TEI Guidelines were primarily intended for representing pre-existing documents, not for document production, and (b) we didn't have any software to produce documents using SGML. He wanted to use LaTeX instead. From a project-management point of view, perhaps he was right: we might have been finished faster if we had used LaTeX instead of struggling to refine our tag set and develop our tools at the same time as writing the Guidelines. But I think the Guidelines are a lot better for having been edited with the understanding of markup in practice that we got by insisting on using SGML ourselves.

It's not clear whether I am disagreeing with you or not. In practice, I don't always do what I'm preaching here: I continued to use SGML for most of my documents until well after XML became a recommendation, since I had a well-working SGML tool chain, and did not switch to pure XML until ... well, a lot later than some of my colleagues.

Then there was the proposal that the chairs make it a requirement for membership in the [name redacted] Working Group that each member submit, every six months, a working example they had written of a [name redacted] using the current draft spec, to show that they knew how to use the technology they were specifying. I can think of Working Groups which would have been much less crowded if that test had been applied.

Posted by: C. M. Sperberg-McQueen at July 20, 2008 1:27 AM

Dear Michael,
I wrote my entry as a reaction to one more call from someone for "them" to eat their own dog food, even though it was masquerading as "us": a remote member of our institute was commenting that we in the institute are failing in this respect. There is a piece of truth in that, and there is also a piece of arm-chair quarter-backing present.

Using our own technologies as we develop them would generally make them better, I agree wholeheartedly. Instituting requirements along these lines in standardization bodies would be an intriguing experiment, but in such a political setting, it might be dropped on a technicality.

But criticizing others for not using their own technologies should be done after careful consideration. But then, I'd like all criticism to be done after careful consideration, so I guess there's nothing new here...

Posted by: Jacek at July 24, 2008 1:20 PM
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