Release announcements must be a part of your process

A woman facing away from the camera holding a bullhorn to her mouth.

Much like a feature isn’t done until it’s documented, a release isn’t shipped until it’s announced. That’s not, strictly speaking, correct; releases often go out unannounced. But doing that is not great for your users. Former Mozilla CEO John Lilly said “surprise is the opposite of engagement.” A well-run open source project should not surprise its users.

Of course, you’re always going to surprise some subset of users. Apart from going to each person and saying “hey, by the way, we’re about to publish a new release of our software”, there’s just no way to reliably reach each person. But if you publish release announcements in a way that the people who care can find them, then you’ve done what you can.

Release announcement tips

What makes a good release announcement? First of all, users must be able to subscribe to the announcement mechanism. Whether this is an announcement-only mailing list, a project blog, a forum, or even a social media account is up to you. Ideally, it’s some combination of those. The point is that users should not have to go check your website (or worse: your git repo) to find out about a new release. The information should come to them. (And once you’ve established those venues for announcements, don’t forget to use them!)

Second, the release announcement should give users information they care about, but at a high level. You don’t need to list every new feature and bug fix, especially if the software is large. Tell the reader what they’ll experience with the new features and include links to more detailed documentation if you want to give them more information. You should also include vital information like how to download the new version, any special notes on successfully upgrading from a previous release, and how to report issues. If it’s practical, thank all of the contributors to the release, or at least the first-time contributors.

Why have release announcements

What makes release announcements so important? The main reason, of course, is to let users know what to expect from the new release. But apart from communicating to your existing users, release announcements are a great marketing tool. They give your community something to point to when they excitedly talk about your project. And they give media outlets something to work with, whether they be niche podcasts or large tech publications. Release announcements give you a chance to create buzz around your project that can help attract new users and contributors.

This post’s featured photo by Maayan Nemanov on Unsplash

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


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