On Your Cute Release Notes

If I see another recipe for ‘bug soup’ I am actively going to boycott that app.

We’ve all seen them. Notes about a fictional engineer who was hired and then fired. A cute story about something completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. Recipe for ‘squash bug soup’ or something along those lines.

With disturbingly increasing frequency, companies are deciding to let their marketing departments handle their release notes instead of the engineering team or product manager.

And we are all worse off for it.

As a user I mostly look at release notes to find out about one (or more) of three things:

  1. Have you added something new to the app which will make it better for me? That is: what are the new features, what do those features do, and perhaps how do I get to them.
  2. Have you fixed that bug which was making the app hard for me to use, perhaps even impossible for me to use? Aka: What bugs did you fix?
  3. How active is development on this app? Before I invest or move to most apps I look at recent release notes to get a sense of whether they are in maintenance mode (just major bug fixes), or under some kind of active development (minor bug fixes and feature releases, optimized for current version of iOS, etc).

At no point do I want to see any other shit in your release notes. Support emails, or an ask for a review is all fine, but only at the end.

You release notes are not a blog post, or a press release. They are a matter of fact conveyance of information to your dedicated users.

I don’t want marketing, I want information.

And I want that information quickly and easily. I don’t want to dig through a story or a quasi-blog post you decided to write. I want sections, or clear labeling, which denotes what is in the build.

  • FEATURE:
  • BUG FIX:

That’s what I want and need to see. And putting anything else in there, while I understand it was done with good intentions, feels disrespectful of the actual users. Your team may love it, but this is about the users not your team.

Cutesy release notes were clever and funny the first couple times, but now they are out of touch, useless, and user hostile.

Stop them now.

Stop wasting my time, stop wasting everyone’s time. If you want to write something cutesy, put it on your blog. Release notes should be clear, concise, well structured, and helpful.