Software updates are a valuable way to communicate the work that has been done but writing them feels arduous. Writing about improvements and new features is an important stage of every product and company. It is vital to pay the necessary attention to releases, so everyone knows about it at the product launch, because it inhibits the development and sales of the project. Although they might be dry and have only technical data and characteristics that the ordinary user may not understand, it is a real job to make them understandable and better at the same time.
In many projects, we have found ourselves delivering code to clients via releases. These releases frequently need detailed software updates. Software updates are a valuable way for Onedot to communicate with our clients but writing them can take a lot of time and effort. To assemble our software updates, we would have to comb through all of the pull requests and commits made between versions to compile a list of changes. Then, we would need to write a few sentences explaining each change. There are usually multiple developers on a team, and sometimes explaining someone else’s code can be difficult. More often than not, we would need to track down individuals and ask them for the important details they felt should be included in the notes.
Software updates are a team effort. For the most part, they’re pretty boring: “bug fixes and performance updates.” “bug fixes.” “This update contains stability and performance improvements.” “update to optimize alert handling.” software updates improve team & customer communication software updates serve as a great “source of truth” (at least at a high level) for what has changed. Sales and marketing teams can use software updates as a resource for when they talk to customers and plan new content. The very practice of writing software updates as a team can improve communication and get more team members aligned on the release. Support teams can reference software updates, or point customers directly to them, as they receive questions or feedback about the product.
Software updates are written in a technical language. Yes, software updates typically describe technical updates to the product. But that’s no excuse for writing them in developer-speak. What are we supposed to learn from an app’s release note that tells us: “Plone instance trouble ticket #223121 failover issue resolved?” unless you’re the user who submitted trouble ticket #223121, you’re probably going to find that update useless. Yet this is how many organizations write and publish their software updates. Vague software updates, another common problem with product update software updates is they just don’t tell us much of anything. You’ve probably seen software updates with helpful updates like: “various improvements and performance enhancements.” It’s good news, whatever that means. Or worse: “v7.2.12 addresses several security issues.” well, thanks, but which ones? How long did your app have those security issues? Could my data have been compromised during that time? Also, when you say “several” issues, do you mean the app still has more security vulnerabilities that you haven’t fixed yet?
Software updates that are too long. We won’t bore you with an actual example here, but you’ve seen them plenty of times—the software updates that go on and on forever. It’s usually all smashed together in one huge block of text, so it’s not even easy to figure out where one note ends and the next begins. Why would a company do this? Why would they just scribble out a bunch of words they know will be meaningless to the vast majority of users who read them? Because organizations are busy. Product managers have a lot on their plates, especially when they’re reading a product release. And the software updates that accompany those product rollouts just never seem like a high priority. But like we said, that’s a missed opportunity for great communication with your user base. The 404 error example the common “page not found” error offers another helpful example of what we’re talking about. Chances are most of the times you encounter an error message when you try navigating to a web page that can’t be loaded, those pages look like this. But it’s also a missed opportunity to make a real connection with the site’s visitor. Look at how the Apple website treats a visitor who requests a page that the site can’t load. Even though they can’t access the page they were looking for, users won’t find this moment a total loss. Because Apple has treated them to page, totally consistent with their brand. You can think of your product software updates in a similar way. Yes, many of your users won’t ever read them. But when you publish those notes, why not make them as readable, interesting, and fun for your customers as you possibly can?
Software updates can represent a chance to create engaging content for your community of users and deepen your relationships with customers. There are some great software updates from companies like slack and trello who present product updates in engaging ways. Slack, for example, included this update in the software updates accompanying its version 3.68: “fixed: a crash would occur on launch if a highlighted word matched an emoji. This was emojis, and has been remedied.” treat your software updates like they’re going to be read software updates might not seem important, but they are part of your product. And just like each new release of the product itself, software updates go out to all your users. Treat them with respect. And view them as opportunities to communicate with your user base and your broader market.