Confluence gets more useful, on the Atlassian platform and beyond

Stephanie Condon Profile picture for user Stephanie Condon April 19, 2023
With new features like whiteboarding and public links, Atlassian is making it easier to create more content on Confluence - and to make sense of it all

Confluence Whiteboard screenshot (Atlassian)
Confluence Whiteboard (Atlassian)

In the era of connected data, it's easier than ever to generate new content — wherever you want, with whatever tools you want. With that in mind, Atlassian is improving its knowledge-sharing platform Confluence with new features and capabilities such as a digital whiteboard, a newly acquired native database and AI tools. These allow you to create different kinds of content, as well as to better understand it all. The new tools also let you take Confluence's capabilities outside the Atlassian platform, so you can better reach your external collaboration partners.

Knowledge workers are "at the cusp of big change" as artificial intelligence and large language models become more widely adopted, says Erika Trautman, Head of Product for Atlassian’s Work Management offerings. She goes on:

Artificial intelligence and large language models vastly open up our access to information, but they don't necessarily advance our understanding. And that's where the key challenge for us to tackle is going to remain. And it's one that Confluence is particularly suited to help our customers navigate, and to help them solve. We're focused on helping customers disseminate the right information, trusted information, so they can advance work and understand the status of work across the organization.

Confluence Whiteboards

In terms of creating content, Atlassian is adding a now-common collaboration feature to Confluence — whiteboarding. Confluence Whiteboards will give users an infinite canvas for brainstorming in real time, illustrating concepts, planning priorities and so forth. It offers classic drag-and-drop functionality, as well as a host of tools to choose from, including sticky notes, shapes, stamps, stickers and timers. Users can add structure to their brainstorming session by bucketing ideas into themes, or visually organizing their work.

While plenty of other digital whiteboarding tools are available, Atlassian says the differentiator here is the ability to bring your ideas from your Confluence Whiteboard to other Atlassian products. You can easily convert your Whiteboard "sticky note" into a Jira Cloud issue or Confluence page. You can transfer content in the other direction as well — for instance, you could bring all of your Jira issues onto one whiteboard to create a visualization, adding relationships between them. You can also embed content from other vendors, via third-party integrations. Trauma says:

Digital whiteboarding became really critical during the pandemic, and I think it continues to be important to dispersed [teams], but we are even using it when we're in person.

Previously, Trautman continues, in-person brainstorming sessions would involve an actual whiteboard. Someone would snap a picture of the whiteboard and distill the information for digital consumption. Digital whiteboarding, combined with the ability to transfer your content to Atlassian's other productivity tools, simplifies the process.

The tool is currently in early access, with about 100 customers using it, including Pizza Hut, Panera Bread and Lumen. Teams can join the waitlist for the Whiteboard beta, coming soon.

Atlassian will still let Confluence customers connect to popular third-party whiteboard tools like Miro, Trautman says. However, she adds, a key theme of Confluence's growth is making it a "knowledge repository" for an organization, providing the "institutional memory" for team members who want to track a project from its early ideation to its completion.

Confluence databases

As projects advance, teams can now track their work in a more structured way with Confluence databases. Atlassian is delivering lightweight database capabilities natively in Confluence, after acquiring the product and technology of Orderly Databases by K15t.

With structured dynamic tables, teams can organize information like Jira tasks, Confluence pages, owners, due dates or statuses. Users can reference an individual cell, row, or an entire table anywhere else in Confluence with real-time syncing. You could, for instance, insert information on quarterly revenue or another key metric into an executive briefing template and display it as a table, card or board.

There's currently a waitlist for the beta version of Confluence databases, coming soon.

Atlassian Intelligence

With so much data being created, Atlassian is using AI to help customers better understand it all. The company is introducing Atlassian Intelligence, built using Atlassian's own large language models and technology from OpenAI, across all of its products. Built on the Atlassian platform, the new Atlassian Intelligence skills are designed to speed up work, help users tap into institutional knowledge and help users answer questions.

On the Confluence platform, speeding up work can mean summarizing transcripts and pulling out action items and key takeaways from a meeting. It can also mean using AI to create a first draft of a new document based on notes, or changing the ‘tone’ of existing content. Trautman says:

For example, if you're under pressure and your feedback to a peer is kind of curt, Atlassian AI can help you make it more professional or make it more casual, to help you be more effective in your communication style.

In terms of institutional knowledge, Atlassian Intelligence will offer a feature across Confluence and other products that gives users the ability to hover over a term and learn more about it. For instance, if you're looking at a Confluence page that references a special project, you can hover over the project name to get some more context.

Additionally, Atlassian Intelligence is offering a virtual assistant on Confluence and other products, helping you to pull information from existing work products to answer questions.

The waitlist for Atlassian Intelligence is now open.

Webpage annotation and external collaboration

Finally, Confluence is adding a set of capabilities that expands its usefulness beyond the boundaries of the Atlassian platform, and beyond your internal team.

By partnering with Hypothesis, an Atlassian Ventures portfolio company, Atlassian is giving Confluence users access to a new Chrome Extension app that allows them to comment and mention team members on web pages — just as if they were annotating a Confluence page. A user may want to, for instance, address typos on their company website or discuss new prices listed on a competitor's site. Confluence will aggregate the comments for you.

Confluence is also making it easier to collaborate with teammates outside of your organization, such as vendors or clients.

With Confluence guests, all Confluence users will be able to invite external collaborators into a Confluence Space. This offers a way of collaborating with individuals who shouldn't necessarily have access to your entire Atlassian account but need to access more than a single page. Guests can view, edit or create content within a designated Confluence space.

Each Confluence account can add five external guests per paid user in a single space for free. There’s no limit on the number of guests per space, nor is there a limit on the number of spaces allowed for guests. Single-space guests is in beta with general availability coming soon.

Confluence is also introducing Public Links — view-only versions of pages that are published on the web. This will allow users to share content more broadly without paying for extra seats on Confluence. While the pages are public, they won't appear in search engine results.

My take

Confluence is already a mainstream enterprise work tool, with more than 75,000 organizations using it, including major names like Rivian, Dominos, NASA and Reddit. Yet since the pandemic, digital collaboration and productivity tools have proliferated, adding pressure for products like Confluence to deliver greater value. Adding to the pressure, features like whiteboarding have become table stakes for knowledge workers, one that Atlassian couldn't afford to ignore.

While Confluence users may already be using tools like digital whiteboards, the added value of easy integration into the broader portfolio of Atlassian products makes Confluence's new offering more compelling. Add in Atlassian's move to bring Confluence to more people and places, and the latest updates may open up the opportunity to gain traction with a wider audience.

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