Comparing SharePoint and Confluence

People often ask how SharePoint and Confluence compare, especially as tools for building and hosting technical documentation. Here’s my take on it, as someone who has used both.

I’ve worked as document manager on SharePoint and as technical writer on Confluence. A while ago, I did a comparative study of SharePoint 2010 and Confluence. The focus was on using the tools for technical documentation. I examined the following aspects:

  • Designing and creating a documentation suite. Developing a document. Providing structure via mechanisms like a table of contents, a left-hand navigation bar, and logical page ordering. Classifying documents via keywords and other metadata, for ease of browsing and search. Moving documents around.
  • Collaboration. The features that enable collaborative content development and review. Comments. Concurrent editing. Checking documents in and out. Version control for individual documents and pages. Tracking of updates via page history, RSS feeds and notifications.
  • Workflow and permissions. Using workflow features to create a document or page in draft status, have it reviewed, publish the final approved version, and when necessary, update the document or page after publication. Controlling access to documents and pages via permissions.
  • Support for other formats. Publishing to formats like PDF, DocBook XML, and HTML. Integration with Microsoft Office. Use of the documentation site as destination for online help.
  • Managing attachments and legacy documentation. Uploading and serving existing documents and attachments.
  • Overall usability and reader’s experience. Collaboration with readers and other authors. Engagement of the readers in the documentation. Efficient use of time in the authoring and publication workflow. Aesthetics and simplicity.

Looking specifically at the wiki part of SharePoint, I found that the SharePoint 2010 wiki is not the same sort of tool as a standalone wiki platform. The SharePoint wiki is more like a set of web pages that are unrelated to each other. But because they are one of the components of the SharePoint platform, you have the power to manipulate and integrate the wiki pages with the other components.

SharePoint and Confluence are totally different things. Both have areas of strength and areas where they are less strong.

  • SharePoint is an all-in-one portal development and document management tool, with wiki pages tacked on.
  • Confluence is an all-in-one document development, document publishing and collaboration tool, with management of external documents tacked on.

My conclusion was that you should use SharePoint if both the following are true:

  • Your primary need is document management. There is a large set of existing documentation in various non-wiki formats, such as legacy Word and PDF documents, complex Visio diagrams and spreadsheet formulas. In addition, you have an existing, stable and tidy SharePoint installation with competent, full-time site administrators.
  • You need a wide variety of discrete content types all on a single portal, such as discussion lists, task lists, non-wiki documents, and web pages.

And Confluence is the right choice if both the following are true:

  • Your primary need is document development and presentation. You want a single platform for designing, developing, and publishing your documentation.
  • You want your documentation easily accessible to readers and authors, with a uniformity of interface that is unintrusive and predictable (in a good way). Content is king. Readers and authors collaborate on the page itself rather than in separate discussion lists.

A quick note: I’ve previously posted a similar report on Technical Writing World, in a forum, and in my book. Now I’m doing the here, to give more people the chance of finding the information. (Thank you WordPress and Google for the SEO goodness.)

Comments welcome. :) I’d love to hear from people who have used both tools, and also to hear if this information is useful to people who have used only one or neither of them.

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About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 30 June 2012, in Confluence, SharePoint, technical writing, wiki and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. How about using both? We use Confluence but need something for document management. Is running the two together viable or will it lead to confusion and chaos?

  2. Great! I am still defining requirements for our Company and must decide if we use Confluence and / or Sharepoint. As we have both tools in our Company I am thinking to use both. Thanks for this summary.

  3. Are there any more recent comparisons for Sharepoint 2013 vs Confluence? Also, are there
    Similar plugins for Sharepoint 2013 as what is available for Confluence?
    Thanks for any feedback.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences on each platform. I also think that utilizing both systems is much more functional if you really have individual storage needs on each of those platforms. You do not need to be restricted to just one system because each of them is unique and serves different purposes. Hence, you really need to figure out which one best suits your company’s needs.

  1. Pingback: What colour is your document – etymology visualisation « ffeathers

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