2021 Product Year in Review – By Kate Mueller
Kate Mueller | March 2, 2022
2021 was a bit of a rough
decade year for everyone, I think. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by that. I sat down recently to work on our 2021 timeline entry for our About Us page and realized that, despite feeling like the doldrums, we made some major strides in our product development. Read on for the full details.
Going into 2021, we had one very large goal: upgrading our infrastructure.
KnowledgeOwl had been running on mostly the same infrastructure since...well, since we've been KnowledgeOwl. If you work in software, you likely know how arduous and challenging infrastructure changes are, and in the past we just hadn't had the resources--or, really, much reason--to make changes to an infrastructure that was working fairly well. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
But as our customer base grew, we'd started to see signs that we were beginning to outgrow our infrastructure. We started making improvements on it in 2020, but 2021 was the year we decided to grit our teeth and dive into the deep end.
However, infrastructure changes aren't really things that you, as our customers, can see. You'd obviously see if we hadn't made changes, since over time performance and reliability would have suffered. But it's not like anyone logs in and says: "Wow, KO is running so great today; I bet they changed something on the back end!"
We always want to keep improving KnowledgeOwl so that it continues to work well for you, and we take every feature request or suggestion seriously. But releasing major new features while upgrading infrastructure is a recipe for disaster. So we focused a lot of our feature development efforts on enhancing existing features or releasing smaller but meaningful mini-features.
Optimistically, we also hoped we'd finish the infrastructure work early enough that we'd be able to roll out multilingual support; however, this didn't happen (as you might have noticed).
So in a nutshell, our 2021 goals were:
- Upgrade our entire infrastructure for improved performance, scalability, and reliability
- Continue to release improvements for existing features and add small, valuable features
- If time, add multilingual support
Here's how all of that went.
Our infrastructure upgrades have touched basically every element of our tech stack. We're still finishing up the last couple pieces, but we're hoping to have these done by the end of Q1 or soon thereafter.
To date, we've:
- Successfully transitioned our development and production stack to Docker
- Changed our background worker configuration and most of its long-running jobs to improve performance
- Implemented additional network infrastructure security
- Added on-demand scaling for our application tiers
- Completed some upgrades to our database and code base, though this is still in-progress
If you've seen planned site downtime notices from us, those were (and may still be) due to the last few remaining upgrades.
(These improvements are largely due to the ongoing efforts of our CTO Pete, our Chief Security Owl, and Darren at CloudButton. Shout-outs to all of you for all your hard work and diligence to keep us rolling along smoothly!)
To be honest, I was surprised at just how many small new features and feature enhancements we released in 2021. And I'd certainly forgotten a few along the way, so allow me to highlight some of them for you here.
(Shout-outs for most of these changes go to David and Zach, who have kept rolling out improvements and fixes while our infrastructure work happened!)
Editor & editing workflow
We added a few upgrades and mini-features to the editor itself as well as the Tag and File Libraries:
- Added an archived publishing status
- Upgraded our revision history difference comparison
- Added a deleted section to File Library so that you can find and restore deleted files without having to contact our support team
- Added a tags usage report so you can see how many articles and categories reference a specific tag
- Split out the hide from navigation options to have more detailed options (such as hide from home page and hide from table of contents)
- Added banners and thumbnails to articles and icons to categories
We've also been working on creating more user-friendly workflows for certain actions, such as situations where setting up redirects would be helpful. These include:
- A new article delete workflow that prompts you to set up redirects to still-published content when you delete an article
- Automatic permalink duplicate checking and redirects for permalink changes
- A new create version workflow when you have unsaved changes in the editor (previously, if you had unsaved changes, we automatically saved them before creating the new version, which wasn't that clear)
We also made some changes to some of the Settings menus and one Report:
- Renaming the New, Updated, Popular, and Related Article lists and making their length configurable
- Adding reader groups and refined categories to the Searches with no Results Report
- A preview changes option in Settings > Style
This year, we had a lot of customer interest in the Glossary, so it was a great candidate for feature enhancements. Most of these focused on integrating glossary with search, including:
- An option to show glossary terms in search results
- A Search Setting so that when someone searches for "glossary", they're prompted to view your glossary
- Support for glossary terms beginning with numbers
We also gave the Glossary editing interface a little love, making some small wording changes and adding in-line glossary controls to edit and delete terms.
Manage Articles is the main feature I use for content audits, so I've been particularly pleased at some of the enhancements we added here this year. These mainly took the form of additional filtering options, including:
- Expanding the tags filters in Manage Articles to support filtering to articles including some tags and excluding others
- Adding a category filter
- Adding a category column in the results display, which displays a full breadcrumb on-hover
We overhauled the Readers page so that it behaves a lot more like Manage Articles, allowing us to add things like:
- Custom filters
- More methods to bulk edit, approve, and deny readers
- The ability to see deleted readers and re-activate them
As we've seen more users taking advantage of our SAML/SSO integration for reader account management, we addressed some popular feature requests.
The largest change was to create a new Settings > SSO menu and to move all the SAML/SSO configuration options there, rather than cramming them into the bottom of Settings > Security.
Along with those changes, we added:
- Smarter welcome emails for SAML/SSO readers (which now use the SAML login URL instead of the KnowledgeOwl default reader login page)
- Overhauling the interface for SAML mapping rules
- Supporting Custom SAML mapping rules
We consider documentation to be part of our product (and if you have questions about that or want to debate it, throw me an email ). While we're constantly updating our documentation for new releases or changes, there are two major updates I'd like to highlight:
- We released a total overhaul of our API documentation
- We started using Redoc to display our API documentation
(Huge shout-out to Deborah, who did all of the work here!)
While a lot of our security improvements happen behind the scenes, we did release a major new feature for our security-conscious users: the ability to enable server-side HTTP Response Headers.
(Shout-out to our Chief Security Owl for all their hard work on this and other improvements!)
As I already spoiled far above, we did not get to multilingual support in 2021. We have done some preliminary work and a lot of scoping and research, but fairly early on we realized that multilingual really couldn't happen until our infrastructure upgrade work was complete.
Our team is eagerly awaiting the wrap-up of that work so that we can begin working on multilingual!
We've been tracking everyone who's asked about multilingual options so we can notify you directly as we release pieces of it. If multilingual knowledge bases matter to you, please drop us an email to be sure you're on that list and/or offer us some input on what you need.
We're still finalizing this year's roadmap, so I don't have a lot of juicy spoilers to offer here. (We really want to finish the infrastructure upgrades before we fully commit to new things--2021 taught us well.)
But I know we'll be working on:
- The final push for our infrastructure upgrades
- Multilingual support (which has been dependent on those infrastructure upgrades)
- Our 2021 annual customer survey favorite feature: broken link checker
- New onboarding/getting started materials in our support knowledge base
- The ability to schedule publication or archival of articles
- A list view of the File Library
In the meantime, stay safe out there, and feel free to drop us a line if you have ideas or suggestions on what you'd like to see added or changed in KnowledgeOwl!