Urban Dictionary, and I think it's safe to say we're all familiar with this concept. Dogfooding is generally regarded as a good thing since it allows developers to experience customer pains first hand. But dogfooding has another side beyond just development. What happens when when through the process of dogfooding you become one of your own largest customers? How do you balance your own needs against those of the rest of your customers? And how do you get your developers in a mindset where they are focused externally and not just internally?
According to Lotus sources about half of Domino's customer base is SMB. I have seen different people from Lotus define that as 1000 user and 5000 users. There is a tremendous problem with this definition. I've discussed it before, but it's relevant to this conversation. According to the US Small Business Administration SMB's may vary from 100 to 1500 employees depending on the industry. The average works out to 500. The European Union defines a SMB as under 400 employees. More importantly, SMB's employ over 97% of the people in the US and account for over 99% of the businesses. IBM's definition is so far out of line with the rest of the world it's absurd, and this disconnect is the source of a lot of their perception problems.
When adding functionality to the Lotus product line IBM's focus is on big companies and large environments because they are one. First and foremost they have to make sure their tools work for themselves. I get that and it's certainly understandable, it's just being done in a way that has alienated a large portion of their customers: the SMB's.
Since IBM took over Lotus the evolution of the product set has been schizophrenic. From a "two lane highway" message to spinning off a competing product line (Workplace), to mostly dismantling that effort and assigning that product's name as the overarching "strategy" moniker for all messaging and collaboration products -- it's been a real rollercoaster. It's been almost as difficult to keep up with as the renaming of the server lines that happens every few years. (It'll always be an AS/400 dammit!)
After Workplace was largely disbanded as a product line portions of it started appearing under the guise of Domino functionality. All of a sudden we started hearing about integrating Activity Explorer with Notes. Workplace Designer was rebranded as Lotus Component Designer and would allow consumption of Domino data with either a Notes client or web interface. In separate news the Sametime Realtime Community Gateway was going to allow federation to several popular public IM networks. The Domino community rejoiced. We were finally first-class citizens alongside the Websphere crowd! Then the other shoe dropped.
None of the new functionality uses Domino. Activity Explorer is deployed on Websphere and DB2. The Sametime RTC Gateway is as well. Lotus Component Designer can't deploy to Domino, you have to deploy to Websphere Portal. The only real interface is web-based, but you can wire it into a composite application in Notes 8 -- provided you use the Standard (Eclipse-derived) client, which comes with its own huge list of caveats. The early buzz changed to cries of outrage.
IBM kept trying to spin all this positively. The justification given for Activity Explorer and the Sametime RTC Gateway using a non-Domino underpinning is scalability. Allowing two different backends was considered, but written off as too expensive. During the discussion about the Sametime RTC Gateway we were told it had to scale to "carrier grade deployments" of the VoIP integration. Okay, I'll bite. How many SMB's out there (by a standard definition and not IBM's) are telecommunications carriers? If there are any, how many are deploying Sametime for VoIP?
Someone at IBM finally realized that SMB's couldn't afford Websphere Portal so IBM released Websphere Portal Express. It promises under 60 minutes installation time and a more attractive price point. I've not installed it so I can't comment on that, but the price I saw was $40,000. If that's more affordable I'm glad I don't know what the non-Express version costs. It shows yet another disconnect between IBM and their customers.
Just when I thought the news for SMB's couldn't get any more depressing, at Lotusphere 2007 Mike Rhodin announced Connections. There is a lot of compelling functionality and I was really excited about it, so I went on a fact finding mission. I wanted to know how it is licensed and how is it deployed. It's been three months since Lotusphere and there is no information on the Connections site so I started contacting people inside Lotus. So far I've been through four contacts and as soon as I say "about 200 users" my phone calls and e-mails aren't returned. I don't take the dismissal personally, but it does tell me that Connections isn't intended for SMB's.
Coming full circle, I think in this case dogfooding has hurt IBM. They are releasing exciting products with amazing features and functionality. They're just doing so on an infrastructure that's too heavy for the average SMB to justify, and at a price point that's unreachable for them as well. I encourage IBM to continue the practice of dogfooding, but I also encourage them to use the experience wisely. Let the developers fix the things they find wrong. Listen to all your customers and do the things they ask you to. Don't be afraid to try another flavor, possibly something in the "lean" or "light" area, or different packaging. Hint: licensing (i.e. "Express") doesn't go far enough.
N.B. I intentionally left out links to references to protect both the innocent and the guilty.