Basic Missing Features That Should Be Standard In Confluence

I've been a Confluence user and admin since 2010 and am still bewildered at the lack of some basic included features that should have been there for 10 years already - despite innumerable requests and incredulous questions from end users  - which would make the product so much easier for end users, and less of a drain on IT / developer people who have to provide so much assistance due to lack of these basic features. many other CMS platform already have many of these features - it's time for Atlasssian to catch up.

Below is a list of basic features that in my opinion need to implemented ASAP to ensure end user adoption and frustration reduction. Please vote up this post and add any additional missing standard features you've found to be critical for your end users and maybe we can get Atlasssian to take notice.

 

Editor

Text

  1. Text styles - preset and user
  2. Font size - by pixels, ems, percent etc.
  3. Font selection - web fonts, Google fonts etc.
  4. Font weight
  5. All caps, small caps title caps, etc.
  6. Line spacing - by pixels, ems, percent etc.
  7. Any text color
  8. Any background color
  9. Justified text
  10. Number lists with a lot more options / number color / number size
  11. Bullet lists with a lot more options / bullet color / bullet size
  12. List image bullets
  13. Columns and sections that flow text
  14. Automatic headings numbering

Tables

  1. Table styles - preset and user
  2. Borderless tables
  3. Cell borders - any side / color / thickness
  4. Cell background - any color or image
  5. Merged cells and cell spanning
  6. Column width
  7. Row height

Sections

  1. Section borders - any color / any thickness / corner radius
  2. Drag section borders to resize selection
  3. Any number of horizontal sections

Media / Attachments

  1. A real site wide media browser to view all media attachments sortable by spaces / pages / categories / labels etc. 
  2. Site wide attachments viewer sortable by spaces / pages / categories / labels etc.

13 answers

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So you are discounting custom CSS to address many of these issues, either site-wide or space level? As a tech writer, I want to control the look and feel for the entire site, and not end up with a hodge-podge of users styles. Many of these items I set with CSS or a combination of user macro and CSS.

Just asking for another perspective.

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Thing is, it's a wiki, for people to share and collaborate on content.  Styles in Confluence have been kept basic and standardised because that's what it's for - standardised content delivery with the contributors not having to think about formatting.   It's not a web page layout tool, it's about the content.

Like @Bill Bailey I would use custom css to standardise on the organisation's desired layouts, and then concentrate on the content.

On some of the specifics:

  • Automatic heading numbering - there's an add-on that does that.
  • Merged cells in tables - already in there, look at the tables tool bar
  • Other table functions - on Atlassian's list, some are planned, and again, some are available as add-ons
  • Attachments - I understand there are more improvements in 6 that may help with these
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This is specifically about the usability of the platform for end users who are not going to learn CSS, HTML, macros, add-ons etc. etc. just to write and collaborate on content. I spend an inordinate amount of time supporting people to do very basic tasks that should be included and obvious to end users.

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I think you're missing the point that Bill and I are trying to get across - it's a content tool.  Not a content formatting tool.  Most users don't need or want all the things you are asking for here, because 99% of the content simply doesn't need it.

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That's just not the case I found across multiple instances for multiple companies for the past 10 years. End users are very frustrated and view Confluence very negatively as they struggle to create or edit content and perform basic tasks. I personally use every developer level tool, language, macro, add-on as I need to - it's not about me it's about regular people who find the lack basic features infuriating.

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That's not my experience with it - the overwhelming majority of my users are interested in content not formatting.  So Confluence works for them.  The stuff you're asking for is not "basic", it's complex formatting that most people find pointless.

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Having been a confluence admin for the past 5 years but also a tech writer using Confluence to develop customer documentation, it is a feature not a bug that the formatting is controlled via CSS. How else can you control the look and feel to match corporate style/brand standards? And if management tells me tomorrow "Comic Sans is the way!" It takes me one week of explaining why that is a bad idea and 15 min to actually change it for the entire site.

If groups with their own spaces want to go a different path, I will give them my source CSS and tell them how to change it for their spaces.

There is already a plugin for numbered headings. Column and section flowing would be REALLY hard to do – for that type of layout I use FrameMaker or InDesign.

Easier capping options would save me a ton of time.

On tables, there is already cell merging, so not clear on your comment there .And I have a very simple nowrap user macro that users can use to control the min width of the table column, but that is a kludge (but effective).

Now preset table styles would be really nice.

Bottom line, I agree with most of your table options. And better attachment management would be good.

 

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It just goes to show that there are a wide range of use cases for Confluence. Many companies are equally concerned with the look and branding of the intranet content. I use custom CSS, Theme Press and other custom code and have hired third party Confluence developers for soup to nuts customizations and overall style and branding control - that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the same kind of content control that you find in any decent word processor or presentation tool which is exactly what Confluence is.

In general it's a fantastic tool but it could be so much better for end users tasked by their company to contribute and manage content with some long overdue additions. 

And yes I know there is table cell merging - I left that on the list by mistake.

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No, you've missed the point again - it's not a word processor or presentation tool.  It's a content tool.

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Call it what you want but the basic features for END USERS that Confluence does and doesn't have appear to be arbitrary and frustrating to the end users I deal with on a daily basis. Through this thread I'm just calling attention to it so I really appreciate your participation and valuable comments.

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Yes, I see that, it's just that much of what you're asking for is absolutely not "basic".  They're advanced formatting that most users of a content system don't need (or want.  No-one I've worked with needs any of that stuff.  They want to write and have their content delivered)

Note that I'm not disagreeing with you on the attachments stuff - the functions that Confluence provides there are basic already and good enough, but the additional suggestions, while not "basic", would be quite handy.

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The original question is a very valid one.

I have an idea about the minimum requirements a tool should fulfil if it is to be used in technical documentation. This includes:

  • Automatic generation of table of content, lists of images, tables, etc.
  • Automatic numbering of headings, images, tables, etc.
  • Possibility to cross reference all of the above
  • Availability of variables like author, document name, current date to be used for exports

Now, how much of the above is available in Confluence right out of the box?

It is, although it does miss the point that a wiki is not an authoring tool.

I'm not sure that automatic numbering is that useful for a wiki, as generally you're reading it online, and numbers don't add a lot.  Off the shelf, you need an add-on for the headings.

The other three items are all there in Confluence - macros for toc, gallery, tables, cross-referenced links, and page properties.

Well it already auto generates a ToC, both in the left-hand side and on the page with ToC macro (and can be saved in a template for user use).

Numbering I disagree with – so 1990s. Numbering really has no meaning with online documentation. If you want numbering in print, you can do that with Scroll PDF (and some CSS).

You can add a link to any item now. Headings are easy to do, the rest, you have to insert an anchor (or did as I did, and write macros to style and add an anchor to table and figure titles).

The variables are already there, but you have do some programming to get them to appear on page export. But much easier with Scroll PDF (still requires knowledge of Velocity and CSS).

 

Bottom line with Confluence, just like FrameMaker or InDesign, you have to learn the tool to be able to generate professional-looking results

Okay, two different things. As an online tool Confluence does the job.

If you also need to create printed documents you have a problem because for this it is far too limited as none of the things I mentioned before do actually work.

That's because it's aimed at being an active collaboration tool, not for static dumps of (potentially obsolete as soon as you click print) information.  I'd agree it's not great at that, but it's not what it is for.  And the weaknesses are patched over by add-ons for the people do need it.

I'm with @Nic Brough [Adaptavist] on this. Trying to use Confluence to deliver documentation in PDF only is a bit of a square peg in a round hole. You can do it, but it is going to take a lot of banging, and may not be very pretty.

Of course an advanced wiki like Confluence IS for authoring and ongoing editing and collaboration. Excellent tools like the Scroll add-ons provide excellent output in addition to the many incredibly useful tools provided by third parties. My issue is that Atlasssian really needs to cover the basic features much better to simplify the work for end users who are not programmers and just want the write an edit content without having to become programmers.

It's still the idea that these are "basic features" that is a bit odd to me.  They're not basic, they're advanced layout and formatting things that most authors do not need or care about.

I never used any of them before I started using wikis, and I certainly don't use them now.  In fact, I used to remove them when I found them in documents.  (and yes, technical author has be a large part of many of my roles for years)

I do care what my content looks like.  I have no time to spend on learning every nuance of CSS. I think @Clinton Bradley makes a good argument.  I hate that it takes so long to get a result that I am really happy with. I need to be able to format content for lots of reasons.  I respect what @Nic Brough says, but, personal style/prefs might be playing a part in his opinion.

 

I care about it too, but consistency, ease of reading and use, and, most importantly, content, are far more important than the layout and attempts to be visually clever.

My personal preferences are not good for most people, so I've completely ignored them in this conversation.  My second choice is for clear and standardised text that I can simply write without having to worry about complex formats, and far more importantly, the audience can read easily.  Changes in style, font, layouts, colours and so-on distract from the ease of reading.  Yes, they make it a bit boring to glance at, but again, Confluence is about content, not style.

And no, I won't "boo" you for suggesting mediawiki.  If it's the better option for you, go for it!  (And, IMHO, it's very good software too)

p.s. if I were to make changes to the Confluence editor, there are three things I'd do - remove italics, build in contrast checker to block people using bad colours, and hard-code something to override any attempt to use comic-sans as a font in the css.

@@Nic Brough [Adaptavist]   Thanks for being a good sport.  I agree with the ban on comic-sans and bad colors laugh   my company is looking at a few ALM tools.  Atlassian is the front runner but I am constantly shocked at some of the areas where features are lacking.  (like importing projects from JIRA server and cloud to a JIRA cloud instance - I can import redmine data easier than I can JIRA data and that just mystifies me).

 

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Steven Behnke Community Champion Jan 27, 2016

I'll bite. I'm a somewhat long-time user. I'll be up front, I'm with the popular opinion here: This is not for content formatting. This is for content generation and collaboration. They do not claim to compete with 'office suites.'

  1. I disagree with 100% of your Text list.
  2. I think Tables are completely underwhelming but we're supposed to get a fresh sizing option shortly. I think I'd appreciate better merging of cells too, but I'm not going to care too much about that.
  3. I think the Sections could be handled a little better but I disagree in general with your points. I think there needs to be preset layouts. Custom layouts per page is too much but I think the current option could be more... flexible.
  4. Media and Attachments are spot on. While Confluence is very powerful with attachments (better than most IMO), I think attachments and handling have barely seen any upkeep in a long time. The new collaboration of the attachments is fantastic (inline comments and viewing) but they deprecate the view-file macros simultaneously. sad
    Furthermore the "Attachments" side of the page has been a somewhat difficult subject to broach with new users, but I don't have suggestions.

Word processors like Microsoft Word and software that competes in functionality with it are focused on allowing you to do anything at all with coloring, fonts, size, shape, boxes, etc and so forth. Microsoft Excel does something very special (plus they give you all the formatting options to hang yourself with cheeky) and this collaboration tool isn't out to change that. Unfortunately much business time is wasted creating insane XML structures in Word and Excel documents.

I've had good luck with Confluence and it's PDF export customizations but maybe I'm just a wizard. image2016-1-27 19:16:18.png

Are the details on the new table options published some place?

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