When I talk to people about Atlassian, they frequently start asking me questions about Jira. I certainly enjoy this and love talking about Jira at length, but I always secretly hope they will ask me about Confluence. My favorite of the two foundational Atlassian products has always been Confluence.

When I first started using Atlassian tools, I didn’t really appreciate Confluence. It wasn’t as loaded with blueprints and templates as it is now. As a result, it was a little harder to get rolling. There’s nothing more intimidating to a writer than a blank page. But even with all the new features and capabilities that have been added since I started working with it, most teams I work with need a little help figuring out how it can help them get better work done faster. Here’s the ‘big picture’ concepts I walk these teams through to get them excited about using Confluence more.

Confluence is way more than a wiki

I often hear Confluence referred to as a wiki… and it always makes me sad. Sure, it’s true. With collaborative editing of its content and structure, it’s a wiki. But it’s so much more than that.

Confluence is geared at creating a useful social meritocracy

Most teams adopt a wiki so that they can activate knowledge sharing for their team. A wiki provides a wonderful way to collect and distribute knowledge without having to have so many meetings and without even having the interested parties in the same time zone.

The problem with most wikis is that once they start getting some momentum people start treating them like published websites. In other words, when people see a busy wiki they don’t realize (or care) that they can contribute new content too. Confluence has two key features that really address this.

  • A flexible permissions structure that allows you to reduce the noise for your team members. If all of the content that I see in the wiki is relevant to me, then I’m much more likely to participate in maintaining it. Teams organize relevant content into Spaces and then provide different team members different permissions within each space. Spaces can be completely open to the public, like a space that describes your organization’s community development efforts, or only visible to folks in your organization that are interested, such as a space about esoteric industry accounting practices.
  • mention feature that makes it easy for team members to recommend other specific team members get involved. By simply typing “@“ followed by a few letters of someone’s name, you can select any team member to “mention”. This calls another team member’s attention to a specific bit of content in the wiki. This at mention feature works in every Atlassian tool, but it’s particularly well loved in Confluence.
  • We also have a host of social media activities supported. For instance, you can “Like” pages, comment (inline or on the page as a whole), follow people or get updates when content you are very interested in changes. You can follow people, watch pages, and watch spaces.
  • The social features allow you to navigate a directory of their users so you can find folks in your organization you didn’t know about and see a summary of their activity. Each person can update their own profile or even start something called a “personal space”.

It’s better at managing and organizing content than any wiki I’ve ever seen

Great content management and authoring tools mean you’ll capture more original content. Confluence has an easy-to-use yet powerful page editor. This editor can handle complex layouts and allows you to embed any type of file.

Getting all of this organized into a tree and bread-crumb navigation structure just happens automatically. You can use a number of different macros to provide richer navigation.

You can copy and move pages, set more restrictive permissions on specific pages (and child pages), export and even send mail to your spaces and make blog posts.

Blueprints and Templates

It’s very easy to create templates for different purposes and there’s a wonderful Blueprints feature for more ‘guided’ content creation.

Templates allow you to create outlines for your team to use to create content quickly. Blueprints are like templates with additional organizational capabilities (like index pages, and splash screens that orient the user on how to use the blueprint).

Content with a bias to action

There are features in Confluence that have more to do with getting things done. For instance:

  • The inline comments feature allows team members to provide feedback on specific parts of a page’s content. This powerful feature is like red-lining in a word processor but is more collaborative. You don’t just highlight changes. You also comment on them to provide reasons you made the change. This is particularly powerful when used in conjunction with the at mention feature.
  • The task macro lets you quickly capture to-do list items. It even understands who it’s assigned to and each task’s due date. Any team member can see all the Confluence tasks they are assigned in their profile.

Tight integration with Jira

If the details about your task and to-do items are in Jira, you can utilize Confluence’s excellent Jira integration to keep your team focused and keep track of what’s getting done.

  • The Jira Macro is used to create and report on Jira tasks. You can create them one at a time right from text on the page, or as whole sets of issues from a Jira table. You can report on them using Jira’s filters right from Confluence.
  • Confluence and Jira can share gadgets to make reporting features work on either system. So if you see a reporting feature on a Jira dashboard and you think it would be useful to team members that spend more time in Confluence, you can add it to a Confluence page.

How are you using Confluence?

More than any other Atlassian tool, Confluence can be used to create value in many different ways. Every time I work with a new team I’m always impressed with how versatile Confluence is. In addition to a team collaboration hub connected to a Jira project, I’ve seen it used for:

  • hosting public websites
  • creating complete sales proposals
  • managing contest entries in a weekend hackathon
  • providing a hub for event planning with multiple organizations

What are you using Confluence for?