Atlassian updates Confluence with dynamic content, real-time editing

The software company isn't trying to make Confluence an email-killer, but it is trying to move the enterprise away from siloed collaboration tools.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Aiming to make siloed collaboration tools a thing of the past, Atlassian on Wednesday announced improvements to its collaboration software Confluence, adding real-time editing and dynamic content.

"The way teams work together is fundamentally changing," the company wrote in a blog post. "The first shift came from bringing work out of hard drives and word documents and bringing them online. The next shift - and the biggest - is moving real-time collaboration from email and text-based documents to the dynamic world that today's teams work in."

While real-time editing and collaboration is available in tools like Google Docs, Confluence gives users more flexibility in the types of files they're sharing -- the software supports 80 different types files, allows users to embed dynamic content like Twitter streams, and facilitates collaborative steps like assigning tasks.

Allowing users to bring in content from different systems is particularly important, Head of Confluence Wendell Keuneman explained to ZDNet, for companies that want their different teams -- like developers, designers, marketers, and finance teams -- to stay up to speed with projects they all touch.

"Flexible content is really important to deliver what they need to get the job done," he said.

Changes are automatically saved and synced. At the same time, a user can choose to keep their edits private until they are ready to publish them while a read-only audience views the prior version. This can come in handy for things like editing company policies and procedures.

Confluence pages live in what Atlassian calls "spaces." These spaces can be dedicated to a project or a team, or any other reason a company may have for creating a shared experience. Effectively, a shared space is like a website, Keuneman explained.

"We've built it open by default, because it fosters team collaboration," he said. Any collaboration product that isn't as open, he said, is likely to "die a slow death."

Keuneman said he recently spoke with a retail bank that illustrated this point: The bank is interested in adopting Confluence so it can leave behind "what they call the Power Point culture," Keuneman said -- a culture that does a company no good when its employees leave and take their slides with them.

"They were seeing the same old ideas being reinvented in Power Point because people didn't have that past knowledge to say how can we build on these ideas," he explained.

By contrast, longtime customer NASA has had thousands of engineers build up around 125,000 Confluence pages over 10 years.

All told, Atlassian now has 35,000 Confluence customers who have created more than 100 million pages and generated more than 6 billion page views. The average Confluence page is edited six times.

"If you can imagine the six revisions we see on Confluence happening over email with attachments... that doesn't work," Keuneman said.

One recent survey showed that white-collar workers don't expect email to die out any time soon -- in fact, they think it will become more important in the coming years. Keuneman acknowledged that "email has its place and always will." That said, he added, email has been abused and over-used, creating a disjointed collaboration process in many workplaces. "We feel the workforce needs a different system," he said.

Meanwhile, as Atlassian customers scale their collaborative applications, the company is investing further in the data center. On Wednesday, the company announced four developments in this space.

It's introducing zero downtime upgrades for JIRA Software Data Center, and it's rolling out a beta for HipChat Data Center. The company is also introducing SAML 2.0 support for Atlassian Data Center products, so admins can specify a SAML provider to manage user authentication. Additionally, Atlassian announced it has worked with Amazon Web Services to develop Quick Start guides powered by AWS CloudFormation templates for Atlassian. Customers should be able to deploy their Data Center cluster in a few minutes.

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