Wiki novices, your new content is what’s important in Confluence, not structure or redundancy!

Confluence helps (team)work with content

Yes, there are undeniable problems which affect almost all Confluence instances. Many pages are dusty and deserted, some are exhausting to read and difficult to understand. Pages may be in the wrong place in the hierarchy or even in the wrong space, leaving them out of context. Many pages are redundant and the system contains topics of similar subject matter multiple times, sometimes at different stages of completeness.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that new Confluence users must be allowed to make such mistakes. If you’re one of these newbies, this is my advice: don’t worry about this stuff right at the beginning! Don’t spend hours trying to find, fix and understand everything or build a clever structure. Instead, just get your first pages up so you can share your knowledge with your colleagues. This is what is most important in the beginning.

Above all, Confluence makes content centrally accessible and able to be worked on collaboratively. Although formalities are important, they are secondary to this. Remember, nothing in Confluence is fixed and final. Pages can be changed at any time, enhanced, optimized and restructured. They can be published in just a few seconds, redundancies can be deleted with a click. A new page doesn’t need to be optimal, especially if you are a newbie.

Obstacles stand in the way of voluntary usage

Some businesses, teams or departments put formal hurdles in place. Maybe there is an initial day-long workshop with a staggering flood of information for beginners.  Maybe there is a long chapter about how to correctly edit and manage Confluence pages in the employee handbook. Maybe there is an approval workflow in Confluence with an editor who checks all drafts and may refuse to approve them initially.

Either way, these hurdles stand in the way of starting. And hurdles of any kind impede ongoing usage. Consider the person who gets their first wiki page sent back for further drafting – how eager will they be to prepare their next page?

We have already discussed this point many times: Collaboration in a wiki is voluntary. No one can be pressured into actively and regularly sharing their knowledge, experiences and conclusions with everybody else.

Your first goal must be to enable and encourage new employees to use the wiki, instead of imposing preparation restrictions on them before their first click. When in doubt or confused, new users will just give up.

Other people will help new users

Many wiki instances have space owners. Or perhaps there are wiki gardeners, or editors who keep the content current and well structured . Or in a team, somebody is responsible for making sure that the team’s space stays accurate. Such users, and also other colleagues who the user may have shared their page with, will usually make an effort to take a new colleague under their wing and quickly move pages to their correct places, or make the layout more readable with just a couple of clicks.

Admittedly, that sounds a bit like: Let a new user do it ‘quick and dirty’ once, so they get out of the starting gates, and then, others will take responsibility for the fine tuning.

Experience shows that novices learn about the enhanced functions of the Confluence editor quickly on their own and then also learn to use them. This greenhorn period does not last long, and no one will need to spend weeks and months cleaning up after someone else.

Often, all it takes is a couple of small helpful tips to new colleagues – “Cool, that’s a valuable page! But look: by doing this, for example, you could structure it in columns. And this is how you can put in an information box with a summary up the top.”

Such pointers are valuable experience for new users, who will immediately embrace them. They want to work to a high standard. Their next Confluence pages will improve in leaps and bounds. And later they themselves will gladly support others taking these first steps.

Support tools can help

Alongside human support from colleagues, technical and organizational solutions can be helpful, particularly to novices.

If certain page formats are frequently used by a team or in the organization, it might be worth turning these into correctly structured blueprint templates in Confluence, which can be selected when creating a new page. Then the user can focus exclusively on the content rather than the structure.

Businesses can counter clutter and redundancies by using a solution such as the Duplicate Content Defender. When the title of a new page is entered, this app shows any pre-existing pages with similar titles.

Video tutorials which demonstrate and explain every basic function in the system succinctly (make sure it’s only one per video) so that employees can duplicate the steps are useful. With our series Learn Confluence we have created just that, deliberately oriented towards people who have no prior knowledge.

Content is what’s relevant, structure comes second

Don’t create obstacles for learners. You want other employees (and of course the business) to benefit from the new colleague’s knowledge. And in this context, a new Confluence page is better than no new Confluence page, even if it needs polishing.

Learners can’t break anything permanently, and they can’t do any real harm. An internal Confluence page is not that important. It’s not a written offers or invoice to a customer, it’s not a public statement or anything similar. This is something internally crafted, and generally speaking, does not necessarily need to conform to any formal style guidelines.

Here, I would use the metaphor of a factory: the entrance hall is elegant and a real eye-catcher, but behind the scenes the production floor is thriving, dusty, sweaty and a bit chaotic.

When someone new to Confluence gets the feeling that anything less than a perfectly crafted page, right down to the last word, is unacceptable, they’ll overthink it: whether they should share what they know, whether it will remain relevant for a long time, whether to publish it on Confluence or  just mention it in a short-lived group chat or an email shared with the team – with the accompanying disadvantages?

In an open system like Confluence, learners need room and opportunities to try things out and to experiment in order to get familiar with the systems and gain experience on their own impetus, through making mistakes and understanding those mistakes. By doing this, they will quickly attain lasting trust in the tool, gain confidence and share their knowledge happily (and most likely start structuring and archiving in an orderly fashion right away).

Wiki newbies, just start writing!

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Further information

Linchpin – Social intranet with Confluence
Learn Confluence – Our new tutorial series for beginners
Enterprise wikis – Our textbook on the successful implementation and use of wikis in businesses (book in German)