Enterprises everywhere are flocking to consolidate their tools and move everybody over to one platform. This article dives in to the potential of using Atlassian’s Confluence for enterprise collaboration, along with everything you need to get started sharing in Confluence.
What is Confluence?
Confluence is an online document management platform, specifically, a wiki. “Wiki”, meaning “quick” in Hawaiian, has become a generic term for a website whose contents are created, managed, and edited collaboratively by its own users. Some are public, like Wikipedia, Answers.com, wikiHow (and for Star Wars and Doctor Who nerds, the wondrous Wookieepedia and Tardis Data Core). Others are private, corporate wikis used by teams and organizations to share information among their employees, Confluence being one of them.
Confluence is a place where employees can post articles, reports, meeting notes, to-do lists, diagrams, and anything else they might need to share with their workmates. And like any wiki, you can connect related pages together using internal links, making the content easy to explore.
Think of Confluence as four things:
- A knowledge base. You can document processes, answer FAQs, and post policy and best practice information for your employees. You can also create a public Confluence knowledge base with how-to guides and troubleshooting instructions for your customers. Support teams using Jira Service Management can link a Confluence knowledge base to their service desk project so that customers see recommended articles in the help center.
- A workspace. You can create plans, requirements, and specs, draft blog articles for a website, communicate progress on projects, and talk to your colleagues by replying to comments and @mentioning them.
- An intranet. You can engage your employees with internal blogs and company updates.
- A filing cabinet. Confluence can be used to store articles, reports, specs, contracts, and procedural documents, even ones that are no longer being actively used or referred to.
Its multipurpose nature means that if enough users get on board, Confluence becomes a single source of truth for your organization, with all relevant, up-to-date documents about your company and projects in one place. Why is this important? Because sometimes an employee only needs one right answer. And they don’t want to have to clamber over wrong, outdated, duplicated, or redundant answers to find it.
Some Confluence basics
All kinds of teams use Confluence, from marketing to HR to legal. We like it, we use it ourselves, and we think it’s pretty darn intuitive. Well, most of the time. That said, until Elon Musk is able to stitch computers into our brains, no newbie can log into Confluence and know instantly what to do with it. Therefore, let’s run through some basics.
Confluence is available in three forms: Cloud, Data Center, and Server. Cloud and Server are relatively easy to understand. Confluence Server is installed on your own hardware and you customize the setup how you like. If you have strict data governance requirements, don’t quite trust the cloud yet, and don’t mind the complexity and risk of hosting yourselves, you’ll probably be considering Server. We wouldn’t recommend it though. Everybody knows the future’s up there in the… you get me. Plus, Confluence Server is on life support at Atlassian, and in 2024, they’re turning off the machine.
What about Data Center? Well, Data Center is still self-hosted, server-based software. But Confluence Server is hosted on a single server, whereas Confluence Data Center is hosted on multiple. These extra servers boost the security and performance of your instance. If one goes down, all users are directed to whichever one/s are still standing. And it distributes user traffic among the servers too, so if 10,000 users sign in to Confluence at once, half will go to one server and half to another, keeping everything from slowing down too much. In effect, Data Center is faster, stronger, and better than Server.
But it still isn’t Cloud. The cloud is really where you want to be and Confluence Cloud is where Atlassian are pouring all their efforts. With Cloud, Atlassian themselves host the software. They also manage and update it without you having to do anything. It’s software as a service, aka SaaS, rather than software as a product. Security is built-in and doesn’t rely on your own system’s firewalls and anti-virus protection. And despite what some companies still think about cloud-based systems, they are more secure than on-premise systems. But –? But nothing. They just are.
The TL;DR? Get Confluence Cloud.
Pages are where all your Confluence content lives. Think of them as super-charged Word or Google documents that live online. You can create pages for basically anything: marketing campaigns, product requirements, meeting notes, troubleshooting guides, policy documents. I wrote the draft of this article in one. You can fill them with text, tables, and multimedia, and you and your teammates can edit the same document at the same time, with full page history ensuring that nothing gets lost. They come with templates for many different kinds of content, or you can simply start with a blank page.
Parent and child pages
A child page is a page that sits underneath another page, which becomes the parent page. This allows you to organize your content into different levels and create a hierarchy. For instance, if you’re building a new website, you might create a parent page with a site map, and child pages for different sections or pages of the website.
You can even create child pages underneath your child pages (would these be grandchild pages?). So, using the example above, for each page or section of the website, you could have a (grand)child page for copy and a (grand)child page for design elements. You could even have, urm, great grandchild pages if you want to get even more granular.
The page tree just reflects the hierarchy of content you’ve created with your parent and child pages and appears in the sidebar to the left of the active page. You’ll be able to see a list of your parent pages and show/hide any child pages underneath them.
A space in Confluence is where your pages are stored. Think of them as workspaces that help keep your content organized. You can have as many or as few spaces as your team needs. For example, one marketing team might keep all of its work in one space, and have pages for each campaign. Another might set up a separate whole space for each campaign. Each space comes with a home page/overview as well as a blog, enabling you to share updates with the team.
Never mind the jargon-y name (no, I didn’t know what they were for ages either). Macros are just bits of content you can add to your Confluence page, e.g. an info panel, a table, a date, a tickable list, a Jira report or chart, etc. You can also purchase extra macros from the Atlassian Marketplace. For example, if you want to make customized Jira reports in Confluence, then Custom Jira Charts for Confluence is a great macro to have. Then there’s the Contract Signatures for Confluence macro, if you want someone not on your instance to add their signature to a Confluence document.
Check out these beginners’ guides to Atlassian, which offer insights into Confluence from actual newbies.
- First Impressions of Atlassian, Jira, and Confluence from Actual Newbies (Part 1)
- First Impressions of Atlassian, Jira, and Confluence from Actual Newbies (Part 2)
How to encourage Confluence adoption
Remember some people love their Word documents, their spreadsheets, their Google Drives. And most don’t like change. Or, more accurately, they don’t like change when one, it’s being forced on them, and two, they don’t see why the new system is better.
If you’ve decided to implement Confluence for enterprise collaboration, you should introduce it to your employees slowly. Ease users into it. Let them play with this new platform and discover its benefits for themselves. And if there’s something their old system did that Confluence can’t, listen, and see if their needs could be accommodated with an add-on from the Atlassian Marketplace. Then, make your Confluence site so irresistible that they won’t want to use anything else.
Also, if your teams are using other proprietary tools that they aren’t going to let go of in a hurry, Atlassian have built some pretty nifty integrations to help with the transition. And that’s because they know that stopping people from using the tools they know how to use can impair processes. After all, Atlassian want their software to be the solution, not part of the problem.
Interested in using Confluence? It’s free to try for up to 10 users.
Christopher is a self-confessed nerd who’d probably take the cake on Mastermind if Star Trek: Voyager was his specialist subject. He writes fiction about time travel, conspiracies and aliens; loves roller coasters, hiking and Christmas; and hates carpet, rom-coms and anything with chilli in it. He’s written extensively for technology companies and Atlassian partners and specializes in translating complicated technical concepts, specs and jargon into readable, benefits-driven copy that casual readers will understand.