Confluence As a Web-Based Publishing System

Note: This article is a sort-of follow-up to Hugh McGuire’s great Wordpress article on the TOC site.

Note2: I have no ownership, or stake, in Atlassian (the makers of Confluence). We use it extensively in our office and pay for the privilege.

In conferences and sessions we often discuss XML based publishing workflows…a concept I love, but I term I hate. Conceptcontent that is single sourced, marked up and is used to drive a plethora of end uses (i.e. pbook, ebook, web content, app, etc…). Why do I hate it? It is scary, maybe not to everyone, but to enough people in the “content business” that the term itself can often kill any hope of implementation.

There might be some authors out there that can write well-formed/validated XML, but for each one of them there are thousands (millions?) more that could care less than less about XML. So, where am I going with this…well we need solutions that take the scary out of XML publishing workflows. There are many companies selling solutions for just this sort of thing, and I’m sure many of them are excellent, but as Hugh mentions in his article  we need an “open source, web based” solution. Wordpress could be it and I think the work that the students and faculty at SFU did for The Book of MPub is awesome and inspiring, but I’m going to throw another hat in the ring. I’m going to further complicate things by breaking one of the “rules” right off the bat…this hat isn’t open source. However, it is only $10 for ten or less users, is supported, has some excellent features and can be quite user friendly. I’d say it is more robust than Wordpress…perhaps more “enterprise” like. So, what am I talking about…Confluence.

Confluence is:

Confluence combines powerful online authoring capabilities, deep Office integration and an extensive plugin catalog to help people work better together and share information effortlessly.

Breaks down information barriers that exist between teams, departments and individuals inside your organisation and get everyone on the same page.

What does that mean? Well, it is an enterprise calibre wiki. The list of features is on the site so I don’t think I need to go through them here, but like the list of wanted functions in Hugh’s article I thought I’d provide a list here:

  1. Version Control…check.
  2. Wyswig editor, or markup…check.
  3. Office integration (I knowick, but it is about making your content producers happy)…a big check.
  4. Can drive an external site separately from the internal/working site…check.
  5. Templating…check.
  6. Commenting…check.
  7. epub…hmmm…not really. There are plugins for exporting to DocBook 5 and then you might be able to use O’Reilly’s tools to convert DocBook to epub. Cludgy at best, but someone could write a plugin that went directly from Confluence to epub I’m sure (Hint: We’d buy it).
  8. LaTeX export…check.
  9. Metadata management…not really, or not in ONIX or OPDS, but there are ways you could do this using some of the available plugins.
  10. Expandable with numerous free, and for purchase, plugins.
  11. Export content…Word, pdf, html, xml…check. [Updated]

I could go on. I’ll be the first to say I haven’t experimented with much of this yet, but I do like the potential. I love the collaboration potential in Confluence and think there might be something here.

There are likely lot’s of options out there, but the most important thing is to to make it easy. There is potentially a great deal of complexity in a single sourced, web based, content development platform so do what you can to hide the complexity. People will need to change how they do things, but do all you can to manage, and minimize, the change. And above all else…get their buy-in, or at least explain to them why it is important.

Want to talk Confluence? Drop me an email.