Confluence 3.5 is a big deal

Wikis are a great tool for collecting and managing an organizations knowledge assets because they allow everyone to participate in the creation and maintenance of content. Wikis present that knowledge in a familiar, web based context.  Everyone loves Wikipedia, and every company should have their own.

Confluence is a wiki tool from Atlassian that I've installed as a corporate knowledge management system (KMS).  It was installed to convert from a bunch of shared file folders full of miscellaneous, inconsistently filed and named Word and Excel files to a more an encyclopedia of what the organization knows, and to provide dynamic, user-managed spaces for ongoing projects.

Atlassian has just released Confluence version 3.5.  As the site admin, I'll be happy with some improved admin features, but that's not the big deal with this upgrade.  Confluence 3.5 is significantly easier to use for the reader and contributor.  Making it easier for the reader improves the perceived value of the content. Making it easier for the contributor means that there will be less resistance making Confluence the home for content rather than doing things the way they've always been done.

I see the key feature upgrades as

  •  Easily add multimedia content
  • Better displays and organization of spaces with a directory and categories
  • Drag'n'drop support for uploads & attachments (Firefox 3.6, Safari 5,
  • Chrome)
  • Improved share and subscribe features
  • "What's New" features tour 

And, I think the release notes indicate that there will finally be a US-English dictionary for spell check,  instead of Australian.  Crikey.


What do we know? Knowledge management and Knowledge Maintenance


There’s an old joke that us IT folks find very funny.

bandaidsQ: Why could God create the world in only seven days?
A: There was no installed base

I’m deep in the process of implementing a corporate content management system. The software base is Confluence, a wiki with a lot of enterprise friendly tools.  The test system is in place and I’ve started the process of seeding it with documents.

So far, I’ve identified four primary sources of information.  There’s a big, shared folder called “S-Data”. Within that folder, there are folders named by functionality and individuals.  The second information source is personal folders. Each person also has their own personal folders on the big file server.  Sometimes important corporate documents are in the S-Data folders, sometimes in their personal folders. Email (specifically, the Exchange server) is the third information repository.  There are things recorded in email that are recorded no where else.  In addition, the Exchange server hosts public folders that function as a CRM and document exchange.  Finally, there’s an intranet hosting documents and discussions, with contributions from the corporate office and a distributed network of affiliates.

It has struck me that I’m not implementing a content management system.  I’m implementing a Knowledge Base, a system that should contain the sum of knowledge about the current state of the organization. Going forward, the version control features of Confluence will create a historical record, documenting what has changed over time. Strategically, this is A Good Thing.

Strategically, yes.  But, oh my, the task of organizing and sifting is proving painful.  It would be so much easier to buy a Google Search Appliance, let it index all the content, and put up a search page and call it “Our Knowledge”.  You and I both know that’s a straw man argument.  It finds everything, but still doesn’t give you history, context, or control.  Using a search tool Band-Aids the lack of consistent structure, framework, and planning. It’s a short term fix that lets us avoid the painful process of changing thought and business processes.

It’s time to think hard about how the knowledge trees are structured.  The goal of the project is a Wikipedia of corporate knowledge, deeply crosslinked, with the most commonly accessed information most closely at hand.  I don’t yet have the right tree structure, but I have one overriding organizing principle:  No Band-Aids.

Tech will be exciting in 2010


I’m looking forward to an exciting year.  In addition to moving my career in new direction, there’s a lot of cool tech that I hope to get my hands on and that I’m working with right now.

  • Atlassian Confluence  is a combination of web site, content distribution system, wiki, and content management system.  I’m currently developing an intranet site using it, may be expanding that into an extranet and, maybe too, into a public web site.  Although not open source, it’s not too expensive, and has developed an ecosystem of developers and fans who help provide tools and support. For more info, click here.
  • iPhone 4 rumors are swirling.  My wish list is a replaceable battery, better battery life, an integrated task list via Exchange Active Sync, and (though it will never happen) the ability to manage music without having to use iTunes.  In the past week, I’ve seen release dates in March, April, and June.   Whatever.  I don’t think I’m eligible for an upgrade until late summer.  And then, maybe there will be a Nexus Two.
  • The Apple Tablet is probably the most hotly rumored bit of hardware right now. I don’t think I want one, but it would be so cool to have one.  It’s yet another step closer to Star Trek.  My real decision in this area this year will be whether to repair or replace my existing laptop computer and, if replacing it, to stay with Windows, go with Linux, or get a Mac.

2010 is going to be a better year, personally, professionally, and technologically.