The term Changelog (aka Release Notes) has been around in the software development world for a long time. There, it is a list of changes to a piece of software. It is usually associated with a particular “release” and ordered chronologically. Here’s the Changelog for an open source software project called Sidekiq.
Changelogs don’t have to be that nerdy, however. In SaaS world, many successful products like CustomerIO and Intercom have taken the idea of a Changelog and applied it their products. They regularly publish updates on the changes they make, why they made the change, and explain how the change will affect customers.
Anyone who has ever produced content can look at the example above and immediately tell that these are not quick posts. They take a lot of time. These are full blown blog posts with collateral and editing.
Why do companies spend their time on this? Why do we agree that they should?
Because Changelogs are super important for a lot of reasons.
Reason 1: It informs customers what is changing
What good is fixing a bug if nobody knows about it because they’ve been avoiding “that buggy part of the app”? What good is a new feature if your existing customers don’t even know it’s there?
And they’re right.
Changelogs are a part of Relationship Marketing.
Reason 2: It informs customers that there is change
How many times have you came to a new SaaS product website, saw their last blog post was 6 months ago and their last tweet was 4 months ago, and thought to yourself “NOPE”?
Customers like knowing the lights are on even if the things being changed are not something they’d use.
Product Fail Yeti says:
But customers are like children and they might get mad if other bugs get fixed before their bugs. Better to stay completely silent and never risk getting anyone annoyed.
Can you believe that guy? Don't listen to the Yeti. #FightTheYeti
Reason 3: It shows prospective customers how you communicate
For people like myself, an awesome changelog can make someone fall in love with a product before even using it. Changelogs are an opportunity to explain how you think about your product. It might not be a sexy marketing tag line that’ll convert you a billion users at a 90% conversion rate in 3 days, but it’ll make the astute reader respect the hell out of you, your team, and your product.
Reason 4: Because it forces your product team to think about things discretely
It’s a sign of maturity when a company is thinking about what they’re changing in discrete chunks. CustomerIO recently released version 5.5.12. Ok. These guys aren’t some young pups. They’re not screwing around. They are rigorous. I trust them.
Reason 5: It sets expectations and fosters accountability
“We released XYZ” -Company
“Oh really? XYZ is crap and doesn’t work in IE at all” -Customer comment
Just like email receipts are awesome because they make your customers ask themselves “do I really need to pay for this?” (which, trust me, you really do want happening) Changelogs are awesome because they make your customers think “oh ok cool that’s out now, I expect that it’s ready for me to use, and I’ll complain if that expectation isn’t met.”
You want these complaints.
Reason 6: It shows you care, and encourages your customers to reciprocate
Finally, we circle back the definition of Product Success: Product Success is about being thoughtful when it comes to what a product does at the periphery — outside the core product — and how those peripheral interactions foster an environment through which many direct and indirect forces carefully nudge the product to get better and better over time.
Setting up your own Changelog
Tumblr & WordPress
It’s interesting how many times a thematic, well-maintained Tumblr or WordPress blog can quickly and cheaply solve a problem, and that’s the case here too. Remember, at the end of the day, the Changelog is really just a series of entries listed chronologically.
Headway (Coming Jan 2016)
@angilly releasing to public after new years
Knowtify has a bunch of different tools, but one of them, called Inbox, can be used for new feature notifications: http://www.knowtify.io/inbox
We started Ramen with the idea to help SaaS product people be successful, and as part of that we built something we call “Product Center”. Product center allows you to share product ideas and updates, as well as getting your customers to comment on them. You can try out Ramen for free.
We’d like to turn this post into an archive of awesome Changelogs. If you know a product that has an awesome Changelog or Release Notes, let us know in the comments and we’ll add them.
Wrong form ID