Atlassian hopes to reach beyond its niche as a content sharing tool for techies with Confluence 4, the upgrade to its social collaboration software released Monday.
First introduced in 2004, Confluence has attracted more than 12,000 enterprise customers, according to Atlassian, but now the company wants to see its use broadened. "We've done very well landing the technical team within the organization," said Matt Hodges, product marketing manager for Confluence. But until now, Confluence was best suited to those who didn't mind occasionally dipping into code. A new, a slicker user interface could make Confluence accessible to more people within existing customers' organizations, and attract new customers who would not have considered Confluence previously.
Atlassian has always concentrated on providing powerful content creation tools, Hodges said, but now it has greatly improved its rich text editor. That means users can create and edit documents more like they would in a word processor, and use advanced features for a browser-based app, like the ability to copy and paste images into a document. Confluence now also provides drag-and-drop uploading of attachments, the company said.
"We've worked on completely rebuilding our rich text editor, as well as making it a really intuitive, simple experience for new users to get in and start sharing and editing," Hodges said. This release also enhances the platform's social media capabilities, for example by supporting Twitter style "@" references in the body of a status post as a way of alerting other users to content updates.
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Atlassian is best known for its JIRA issue tracking system and other developer tools. Until now, Confluence users who were content creators and editors often had to leave the rich text editor and edit code in wiki syntax. A wiki is a collaborative content creation and editing environment, and wiki markup languages provide coding shortcuts for creating new documents and links between documents more quickly than would be possible by coding linked HTML documents.
However, non-technical users typically don't want to look at code at all, and now Confluence won't make them.
Partly for that reason, analyst rankings of the leading enterprise social software vendors typically consign Atlassian to second-tier status. Gartner's August report on Social Software in the Workplace classified Atlassian as a "challenger," compared with category leaders IBM, Jive, and Microsoft, and specifically cited "Confluence's traditional wiki-style editing" as a key weakness, at least until the promised rich text editor was delivered.
For Atlassian, the challenge has been creating a "round trip" editor that would make routine document creation and editing easy through the rich text editor, while still allowing power users to toggle into wiki code editing mode. The trick is to make sure the two work together smoothly, so that anything entered in code is accurately reflected in the rich text editor, while changes can be made in the rich text editor without garbling the underlying code. This is similar to the challenge faced by visual editors for other sorts of web content, where the underlying HTML and CSS code must be preserved by the rich text editor. Although Confluence has offered a rich text editor in previous releases, users who preferred working that way still found themselves resorting to the code view to correct errors. With Confluence 4, that should no longer be necessary.
The new editor also provides autoformatting and keyboard shortcuts to speed content creation and editing, as well as an autocomplete function to simplify adding dynamic content to pages.
Atlassian offers a downloadable 10-user version for $10, with the proceeds donated to charity. You can also get a 30-day free trial of the software, either as downloadable or hosted software. Downloadable versions are available for Windows and Linux.
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