The monthly meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, San Diego Chapter, occurred May 3, 2017, at Hera Hub’s Sorrento Valley meeting space.
After a social hour and a brief formal meeting, Rachel Sienko gave a presentation on using a wiki approach to collaborative communication.
Attendees enjoyed nearly an hour of networking and some light refreshments before STC San Diego President Alice Brzovic kicked off the formal part of the meeting. Alice recognized and thanked the Chapter’s leadership and volunteers, and announced upcoming events relevant to technical communication, including the annual workshop co-sponsored by the San Diego Professional Editors Network (SD/PEN) in October.
Rachel Sienko introduced herself as the Information Development Manager at Big Panda, where she manages the company’s user-assistance program. Big Panda’s flagship software product is an information technology systems management platform that aggregates and correlates IT alerts to create high-level IT incidents. Rachel administers Big Panda’s Confluence server, which is used to author and publish customer-facing technical content in a wiki format.
Rachel focused her talk on the structure and capabilities of Confluence as a wiki tool for collaborative communication. She also touched on how to:
- Evaluate the relative benefits and challenges of wiki-style vs. traditional technical publications tools,
- Select and purchase new authoring and publishing tools, and
- Plan for content migration and tool implementation projects.
Rachel discussed the functionality of the Confluence wiki by breaking it down into the following four “pillars”: authoring, content management, publishing, and metrics:
- For authoring, the Confluence wiki allows for reuse of articles and excerpts, enables the embedding of notes covering multiple pages, and facilitates collaboration in that anyone using it can make edits or comments.
- For content management, Confluence provides tools for access control, revision control, version management, and workflow management. The wiki also lets all users create drafts while allowing for customizable restrictions on which drafts get published.
- For publishing purposes, Confluence offers features such as automatic publication, custom URLs, advanced search features, styling, navigational tools, and responsive design using HTML5.
- For metrics, Confluence comes with tools to help administrators determine the effectiveness of communications within the wiki, enabling both quantitative and qualitative analysis.
Questions during the Q&A period included the following:
Why did you choose to use Confluence at Big Panda?
- It was easy to migrate the content we had been accumulating in GitHub to Confluence. We found GitHub’s output difficult to navigate for our purposes, and we appreciated the ease and power of navigation offered by Confluence. We also liked the richness and variety of vendors currently available for extending Confluence functionality.
Did you evaluate other products against Confluence?
- Yes (Zendesk). Because our authors preferred Confluence, we identified preferred elements of Zendesk functions, and made sure they could be made available in Confluence.
Does Big Panda offer any external forum-style wikis?
- Analysis showed low demand and high (delivery) cost for such an offering.
You mentioned earlier that Confluence isn’t well suited for cases where your documents need to have many slight variations for different targets, or for internationalization. Does the Confluence limitation arise with the number of variants of a document, or is the product not well suited for internationalization, or both?
- As a wiki product, Confluence wasn’t really designed to handle these types of document variants very well. Its strength lies in empowering collaboration.
Alice closed the meeting by announcing that the next official meeting of STC San Diego is set for the second Tuesday of June.