How do you rate Confluence against other software for documentation (i.e., Frame Maker, Word, AuthorIT)?

I am new to the software and find some of the functionality painstakingly difficult (i.e., page breaks, title pages, spell checking an entire document, entire look and feel of exported pdf) compared to authoring tools I have used in the past.

Any insights would be welcome.

3 answers

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Depends on the type of documentation. If you need static, fixed, distributable documentation (technical manuals, standardised how-to guides, book like things), then it's not great.

If you want dynamic, updated, fast moving and relevant documentation with instant "publication" (i.e. see this web page), then it's ideal.

I certainly wouldn't reach for Confluence if I needed to write a manual or book, but it's excellent for technical documentation on a product or set of products (example, my current main client has around 450 products of varying size, all of which need documentation on usage, monitoring, failover, architecture, and so-on. Paper based documentation isn't going to work given the need to do around 3000 edits a day. Regularly updated and relatively short web pages on specific topics is essential). Your examples of "painstakingly difficult" things are almost all about formatting and Confluence is not a tool aimed at that usage - it's formatting/export facilities are "nice to have" addons that are not really core functionality.

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Wiki popularity grew very fast and it reached its maximum popularity in the middle of 2008. Since that popularity stops growing and goes down (very slowly).

On the other hand, MS Office popularity is still growing. I made a quick comparative of popularity of Wiki vs traditional documents.

The most interesting thing is that wiki did not affect traditional document formats popularity (nor new web documents like Google docs) which are still as much populars as many years ago.

You can use a mix: Wiki+traditional documents by using DocMiner for JIRA which allows to publish traditional documents on wikis like Confluence caring a lot about security. You can structure your documents in a Subversion repository and grant people to read them. Furthermore, the content of those documents can be related to JIRA in a clever way.

Mmm, that's not what we're seeing in large corporates. Monolithic documentation is increasingly being seen as pointless, as it's obsolete almost before as it's finished, and it simply doesn't keep up with development and enhancement cycles, let alone supporting increasingly clever (i.e. complex) software and systems. Consider the speed with which Wikipedia is updated compared with a standard Encyclopedia. (By the way, your link is interesting, but you don't tell us the data source - we don't know if you've asked the right questions for example)

That's not particularly relevant to what the original question is about though. It seems to me that Lenmac is probably trying to use Confluence to generate document artifacts, and my opinion is that Confluence simply is not a tool for that. The discussion about whether the document artifacts are the right way to solve the problem (as opposed to doing it as wiki pages) is not the same question really.

Nic,

I used Google Insights to get the data.

Regarding wikis, you will see how demand decreases next year in large corporations. Following are Gartner predictions about technologies and they have a lot of influence on IT managers (buyers): In 2011, Wikis are explicitily mentioned as Social Collaboration tools. For next 2012 years, it's not mentioned. In 2012 Social Collaboration and Communication demand will be replaced by Contextual and User experience, so wikies should be re-invented as market will ask for Contextual Wikies instead of Monolithic Wikis ;).

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I think for small documentation projects that you need to change frequently or collaborate on, it's great. Easy to update and immediately have available. I am having issues with importing to and from MS Word; formatting is awful both ways. We have some users who still prefer documents they can print and hold. The known problems with numbered lists and image placement are very frustrating as we try to maintain up-to-date documentation.

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