Every day, my phone prompts me to install some updates, and every day I go in to see which apps have updates and what the updates contain. I’m not sure why I bother anymore though; lately most updates come with release notes saying something like “improvements and bug fixes,” and sometimes not even that much.
The problem isn’t limited to apps, either. I received an over-the-air OS update a while back which told me absolutely nothing about what was in it nor whether I could expect it to fix any bugs I’d been running into. My options were either to install it blindly, or search the web and hope a tech blog or forum user knew what was in this release.
The release notes section is a place where a developer can tell their users what they’ve been up to, yet most developers seem content to say nothing at all. If what you’ve improved since the previous version was significant enough to merit an update, shouldn’t you be able to write a few bullet points about it? Surely, “refreshed visual design” and “improved startup performance” are much more informative than “improvements” and no harder to write.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that for most kinds of software, the majority of users simply don’t care about the changes in an update. They installed your program because it solves some problem for them, and as long as it continues to solve that problem, they don’t care if you reduced your memory footprint or fixed a bug in a feature they’ve never used.
However, the kind of people who read your release notes are the ones who really care about your product. They are your evangelists, your word-of-mouth marketers, your beta testers.
As developers, we should consider something broken when our most dedicated and engaged users are forced to turn to tech blogs to find out basic information about what has changed in our product. We have an established communication mechanism for this. Let’s start using it.