Confluence Changed the Way I Work
Brian Scholer | TrustRadius Reviewer
June 04, 2014

Confluence Changed the Way I Work

Score 9 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User
Review Source

Software Version

3.x - 5.x (current)

Overall Satisfaction with Atlassian Confluence

Note that Confluence can be purchased from Atlassian as a downloadable version which is installed yourself, or as a service through Atlassian On-Demand. I deal exclusively with the downloadable version.

We are using Confluence across several units (in my organization this includes administrative departments as well as labs), but not across the entire organization at this time. We are expanding its use, chiefly among labs (which in many ways are self-contained).

For administrative departments, Confluence is used to encourage and strengthen collaboration both within a department and between departments. It provides an excellent way to document procedures and information and present it in a way that easily accessible to anyone.

For labs, it is used for lab procedures, testing methodologies, and certain research data. Privacy is important for each individual lab, so their Confluence spaces are not visible to anyone outside of their lab, unless explicitly requested.
  • Documentation of policies and procedures and information about key infrastructure.
  • Collaboration on documents and data (including discussion about the information that is not part of the document itself).
  • Discoverability of information -- all articles are indexed, taggable (labels), and searchable.
  • Security -- fine-grained security is possible, and access-based enumeration makes it less likely that someone without permission to certain data will even be aware of its existence.
  • Single Sign-on -- integration with LDAP (including Active Directory) and other SSO possibilities makes user administration easier and end-user login processes easier.
  • Intuitiveness -- I've evaluated many wiki products and Confluence is by far the easiest to start using and continue using, both for technical and non-technical users.
  • Upgrades -- for the most part, these go well but they can be challenging if you've done any customization to the programs files (which is required for certain basic things like SSL). Plugins are great for extending the functionality of Confluence but they add to upgrade headaches. (Does not apply to on-demand since upgrades are done by Atlassian)
  • Migration paths (to Confluence) -- there is no official supported tool for this. The Universal Wiki Converter is an outdated and seemingly unmaintained tool that is tricky to use and in my experience barely viable if at all, so conversion from your existing wiki to Confluence may be best handled by a consultant who is very familiar with the process and its pitfalls. Of course if you're starting from scratch, this doesn't apply.
  • Licensing is done in tiers, so you can't just add a handful or a certain number of users. If you have 100 users, and need a few more, you need to jump up to 500. The pricing is fair so for most companies this could be a non-issue, but in a small business it might force a tough decision about whether to expand to a number of users you'll never need (at significant cost increase) vs. not having enough licenses for everyone who needs one.
  • Although there is a supported clusterable configuration, there are so many caveats and pitfalls to it that it's rare to see it done in production. As such, true high-availability is unlikely to be achieved, except maybe in On-Demand, though the SaaS version has many limitations itself.
  • Much better communication between team members -- when you have to write for other people it makes you see things from an outside perspective.
  • Less duplication of effort -- documentation on a task can be seen by other users and followed or improved.
  • Reinforcing policies and procedures -- it allows us to make our workflows an iterative process naturally, without forgetting about previous requirements or constraints.
  • Visibility -- a team member's activity can be seen by her peers and the team leader, so it gives the team a view of what everyone is working on without needing a formal meeting; it can allow someone to provide relevant information or feedback sooner.
  • MediaWiki,MS SharePoint,TWiki,DokuWiki
Anyone who has made an edit on Wikipedia knows what it's like to use MediaWiki. I occasionally find an instance where I'm using it, but I don't use it often. I have done a conversion from MediaWiki to Confluence and it was painful.

TWiki and DokuWiki (along with others I don't remember anymore) were evaluated for a client of mine many years ago (they really wanted something free). Once we tried Confluence, those options were not in the running, and Confluence was the clear winner. It just felt right, whereas with all the others it felt like a struggle to use.

In my opinion Confluence blows SharePoint's wiki out of the water.

Confluence has a SharePoint connector, which provides some integration between SharePoint as a document management system and Confluence as a wiki. It seems promising, but I have not personally used I don't currently use SharePoint in production.
Confluence remains well worth its support renewal price, and features continue to be improved and added. We are adding internal users to Confluence even without an internal push (which we hope to do within a year, where we expect a major uptake by labs).
In my view, Confluence excels at the following:
  • Anything you would traditionally use a Wiki for.
  • Replacing shared network drives filled with Word documents or text files (and certain spreadsheets, if the contents are treated more like a table than a calculation sheet)
  • Any mix of text and image data that needs to be worked on and discussed among a group.
  • Documentation for business processes, policies and procedures, technical information, etc.
  • An intranet (depending on your needs for an intranet).

Confluence is not:
  • A full document management system or version control system: it's not good for keeping individual files that aren't turned into wiki pages.
  • A file storage system. Sometimes users see that they can attach files to pages, and want to attach lots and lots of files to replace a shared drive. This isn't a good idea; it's not intended for this purpose and the contents of those files will not be editable nor indexed, nor will their previous versions be saved.

As far as required resources (for the downloadable version) IT-wise, it helps to be somewhat familiar with Tomcat, but it is not strictly necessary (I didn't know anything about it before using this product).

Atlassian Confluence Support

I have not had a lot of support experiences with Atlassian, but of the few I have, I wasn't very satisfied with the results. I found that multiple people would respond to the issue at various stages, requiring re-communication (even though the support system stores everything and shows it to both them and you). Often responses came at odd hours, resulting in 24+ hour turnaround on basic responses, even if you respond right away. Support often asks you to do things which require downtime, and don't seem sympathetic if your organization requires that downtime to be done off-hours. This makes it difficult to resolve issues in a timely manner, if at all.

I must note that I have not opened a support incident with them in close to 2 years, and it's my understanding from colleagues that there has been much improvement. My comments and ratings reflect my older experiences.
ProsCons
Good followup
Kept well informed
Problems left unsolved
Escalation required
Difficult to get immediate help
Need to explain problems multiple times
Slow Initial Response
No - Premium support, to my knowledge is not something you can buy for a single issue or for any license; it's an entirely different class of licenses called Enterprise Licensing that is only available/required at higher user tiers. I do not currently use any Confluence instances with enough users to require/allow for Enterprise licensing.
Yes - I did submit a bug regarding the use of Microsoft's JDBC driver for SQL server. It was not resolved to my liking in that their position was that the driver is unsupported, though I can't exactly fault them for not supporting a driver they do not test with. Support for that driver remains an open feature request (it doesn't have a lot of votes).
After escalating an issue, I was contacted by someone higher-up and worked with her to get much better support, and to provide feedback on the overall issues I've had with support in the past. I have not used their support in almost 2 years since I haven't needed it, so I can't comment on any improvements.

Using Atlassian Confluence

Overall I find Confluence to very pleasing to use. I don't feel like it's getting in the way of the task at hand. It just feels easy. Creating pages, editing pages, finding pages, sharing pages, exporting, printing, organizing all feel natural to me. Occasionally using certain macros can be cumbersome inside the WYSIWYG editor but for the most it's smooth.
ProsCons
Like to use
Relatively simple
Easy to use
Technical support not required
Well integrated
Consistent
Quick to learn
Convenient
Feel confident using
Familiar
None
  • Creating and editing pages is very easy. The editor is WYSIWYG so anyone can use it, but it also supports shortcuts for the more technical user who likes faster keyboard access to functions.
  • Searching and finding content with the built-in search is very effective even when articles aren't created with labels, as all of the content is indexed.
  • Collaboration with users via Activity Feeds, RSS, Comments on articles, sharing with other users, and @user tagging is very handy.
  • Embedding media (photos, youtube videos, google maps, etc.) into pages can be done with drag and drop or cut and paste, seamlessly.
  • Embedding interactive versions of some document types doesn't work very well (PDF, vector-based docs like Visio, etc.).
  • Organizing pages into strict hierarchies is not something well-supported by Confluence. Pages can be organized in trees but the URLs do not show this information (this can be good if you want your URLs consistent as you move pages around). It also means that page titles are not relative to its parent(s), which means longer names that incorporate the names of the parents in order to unambiguously identify a page.
Yes - The mobile interface is sparse and it's read-only. This is just accessing the wiki through a mobile browser, not with a dedicated app. You could also use the desktop version of the web interface for full functionality (which is cumbersome if even possible on a small screen). Overall I feel mobile is not well-supported.