10 weeks of changelogs

Three months ago, we decided to pivot.

We had set out to build a modern version of a wiki to help engineers share knowledge better. But after some time, we realized that we weren’t serving our users’ real workflows. We were building for an idyllic version of knowledge sharing that no one really followed.

So we decided to do some more user research. We discovered something fascinating. While engineers didn’t post to wikis as often as we wanted to believe, they write tons of private notes.

Engineers start by jotting things down in Apple Notes (or similar). Then they often copy-paste notes from their Apple Notes into other tools in order to organize and share. Apple Notes, Google Keep, and raw text files give the best jot-down experience, but they fall short for organizing and collaborating.

We thought we could do better. We set out to build a new notes experience that provides a frictionless jot down experience, but then also branches into organizing and sharing when needed.

We decided to commit ourselves to 10 changelogs to give it a shot.

Here’s how we did it.

How we chose what to work on

Our goal with these 10 weeks was to prove out our app’s reason for being. To do so, we needed to:

1) deliver value with a core differentiator.

2) let this value shine. This means there can’t be major weaknesses that prevent early users from wanting to use the app.

Following this guideline, we prioritized our work based on two categories: BAMs and major weaknesses.

BAM: a feature that’s exciting and novel. It doesn’t stand for anything. It’s the sound people make when talking about this type of feature. I’ve also seen this referred to as a wow feature.

Major weakness: a glaring, deal-breaker issue with the product. This can be a software bug, a design bug, or an essential feature that’s missing.

One of our core BAMs is a feature called Speed Dial.

Speed Dial gives you the ability to jump to a location in your workspace with just one keystroke (BAM!).

To build on this BAM, we:

  1. made Speed Dial easier to find (week 5). (Previously, users had to navigate deep into config settings to set a Speed Dial. Now it’s pinned to the left nav).
  2. added the ability to send a byte to Speed Dial without navigating there using @0 (week 7).
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The Speed Dial BAM is now prominent in Bytebase.

Bytebase was too narrow.

Our original intention was to make it easier to focus.

We learned from our users that this was a design issue. Some explicitly asked — why is Bytebase so narrow? Others were more subtle:
* I’d like to have more navigation items on the main screen. It feels like there’s too much empty space.
* Bytebase doesn’t work well for my longer notes.

So we made Bytebase wider.

This is how Bytebase looked narrow. It was okay for small notes, but didn’t work well for long notes (or invite people to try out writing longer notes).

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Narrow Bytebase (Design issue).

The same notes in a wider screen view:

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Wider Bytebase.

Now you can also write longer notes more freely:

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Wide Bytebase has better support for longer-form notes.

The changelogs

In 10 weeks, we shipped 8 BAMs, 9 major weakness fixes, and a bunch of smaller changes. We didn’t plan everything in advance. We chose what to work on based on the biggest major weaknesses exposed by our users and on the BAMs that people loved the most (as well as our intuition for what our next BAM could be).

We’ve seen growing DAUs and user love. We’ve gotten the initial proof we were looking for.

Our starting point was the wiki-style app that we had previously built. We re-worked this code to kick off our pivot.

week 1: (5/11/2020)
- [fix]: reduce noise in interface by introducing hover menu.
- [fix]: make navigation experience more consistent.

week 2: (5/18/2020)
- [BAM]: introduce No Man’s Land. This is core to our pivot. We knew we were onto something when this comment on the Indie Hackers forum resulted in 150 signups in about 48 hours.
- [fix]: add more context to search.

week 3: (5/26/2020)
- [fix]: export. Super-notes folks care more about export than import. They want to be free to try things out and are concerned when they can’t get their notes back.
- [fix]: improve mobile web experience.

week 4: (6/1/2020)
- [fix]: added ability to create tags on-the-fly.

week 5: (6/8/2020)
- [fix]: wide screen
- [BAM]: speed dial is easier to find

week 6: (6/15/2020)
- [BAM]: command-k

week 7: (6/22/2020)
- [BAM]: send to speed dial without navigating there.
- [BAM]: clone

week 8: (6/29/2020)
- [BAM]: start writing instantly with scratch collections
- [BAM]: performance when navigating into a byte.

week 9: (7/6/2020)
- [fix]: add breadcrumb for context as you navigate.
- [fix]: more notes in one view.

week 10: (7/13/2020)
- [BAM]: add ad-hoc read-only sharing.

BAMs and major weaknesses has been a helpful way for us to think about prioritizing work. It focuses our effort on learning from our users. This has helped us make our product meaningfully better each week.

Want to join our Beta?

Bytebase is a notes app where you write notes like you’re texting yourself. This lets you write messy and freely. But then your notes are modular. Modular notes are easier to organize and share ad-hoc. Request access at https://bytebase.io.

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This is the official blog of https://bytebase.io— the fastest way to write, organize, and collaborate on notes.

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