Any team needs a convenient way to organize and discuss their work. Suitable team collaboration software is a big help when you need to create a knowledge base, share files, plan projects, collaborate on tasks, store and distribute documentation.
If you’re chosing between Atlassian Confluence (an application designed for teams to share information and work together in one place) and Google Docs (an online word processor that allows you to create, collaborate and share work documents using Google Drive service), this comparison can help you decide which tool is the right solution for your team.
What’s being compared:
- Visibility and Discoverability
- Creating and Formatting Documents
- Collaborating on Documents
- Hosting, Supported Devices
Confluence has everything organized in pages and spaces. A page can be a project plan, documentation, blog post, specification, meeting notes, product requirements, and so on. A space is a collection of pages, a directory dedicated to a project or team. You can use a hierarchy of pages to organize your space – have parent and child pages arranged in as many levels as you like.
The order of pages can be changed. You can also move them between spaces.
No matter how well organized your data is, it can be a challenge to find something specially as you scale. That’s why it’s so important for a team collaboration platform to have robust searching capabilities. Confluence’s got it. There’re even several searching options to choose from, including quick search, filtering search results and advanced search.
Google Docs has documents stored in Google Drive, a Cloud storage system. Documents are kept in folders and sub-folders. Each folder has files presented as a list. You can sort your documents, but there’s no way to reorder them manually or to create a hierarchy of files.
The searching feature of Google Drive helps you find needed files. It’s rather powerful and has a number of filters to narrow search results.
Visibility and Discoverability
Global, space and page permissions provide a wide range of options to control who can do what in Confluence. For example, a Confluence administrator restricts who can create new spaces; a space admin assigns what users and groups can add, view and delete pages located in the space; and a user can set viewing and editing restrictions for individual pages and be in control of who can access and contribute to a page.
Once a new page is added, it becomes available for others, who can give their feedback, suggest changes, and use it in their work. A published page can also be a draft created for several people to collaborate on and finish together. You can let pages just be there in the space for other to discover and view them when they need that, or share a page to draw attention of your colleagues, solicit feedback or inform about something.
It’s easy to be on track in Confluence and refine what you want to be updated on. To follow the activity of others, you can watch a space, follow a user, receive daily or weekly email notifications with recommended updates, visit the dashboard with important information and updates, get notifications in your chat app, such as HipChat or Slack.
Files and folders can be shared with others. In Google Docs you can decide how documents are shared by default. It is possible to set up shared folders for teammates to upload and create work-related documents that should be available for the whole team. It’s a nice alternative to sharing each document separately, because it makes it easier for your colleagues to discover new items.
When sharing a file or a folder with people, you get to choose the level of access:
- can edit
- can comment
- can view
Creating and Formatting Documents
When adding a new page in Confluence, you can design it from scratch or choose a suitable template to pre-format a page (e.g. meeting notes, products requirements, how-to article, task report). It’s also possible to create custom templates that suit your needs.
Confluence has a rich content editor that you use for creating and editing pages. While in the editor, you can enter and format text, embed other content and files:
- JIRA issues, and more
Besides that you can use macros that bring in extra functionality. For example, the Table of contents macro uses headings in your page to create a table of contents with links to each heading, the Widget Connector macro allows embedding YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.
Speaking of macros, Handy Macros is the add-on that provides a set of extra macros that are not available in Confluence by default, e.g. interactive statuses, reminders.
If you’re using Microsoft Office for some of your tasks, you can embed Office documents on a Confluence page and even edit them from Confluence.
Another awesome thing is page history. Each time changes are saved Confluence creates a new version of a page. It allows you to track changes, compare different versions of a page and restore a previous version if needed.
In Google Docs, you can either create a new document, import a supported file created elsewhere or convert an Office file to Docs to continue working on it and share with others. Just like in Confluence you can enter and format text, insert images (instead of downloading and uploading an image you can paste an image URL), links and tables.
There’re a lot of fonts at your disposal and a variety of templates to make your life easier. If you want even more fonts, you can use the Extensis Fonts add-on that gives access to over 1200 fonts. It’s also possible to set default styles and have new documents created with your custom formatting.
Another cool feature available (in Chrome browsers) in Google Docs is voice typing. It allows you to type and edit a document by speaking.
Working on a document we often need to google something. The Explore feature of Google Docs allows you to search the Internet and Google Drive without leaving a document you’re crafting.
Google Docs also preserves the history of changes made in a document. Using this feature you can browse earlier versions and restore an older snapshot of your page.
Google suite of applications allows you to create business documents of various types. Besides formatted documents you can create spreadsheets and presentations by using Google Sheets and Google Slides.
Collaborating on Documents
Confluence has page comments and inline comments that are great for providing feedback. Page comments are on the bottom of the page and are usually used for conversations and comments that:
- refer to the page as a whole
- are too big to be placed inline
- are meant to remain on the page for the future
Inline comments let you share your thoughts, ask questions and have discussions in context. As well you can mention a user to bring that person in the conversation.
Confluence native inline comments are available while viewing a page. When you go to the editor to make some changes, comments and threads are not displayed there. However, this capability is provided by the Talk – Advanced Inline Comments add-on. With Talk you can also decide who should be able to view discussions and benefit from other nice features.
In Confluence 6 Atlassian has introduced a long-waited feature that takes Confluence to another level – collaborative editing. It drives teamwork allowing several people to work on the same page at the same time. You can see who else is editing the page and view their changes as they come.
Google Docs also comes with inline comments. What’s good is that they are always there for you as long as you have the permission to comment. It’s very useful, because you can see threads while making edits.
Google Docs has a valuable feature that is not provided by Confluence. It’s suggested edits. When you switch to the Suggesting mode, all changes you make (e.g. editing and formatting text, adding or removing images) are saved as suggestions. And the other person can either accept your suggestion and have it become part of a document or reject it.
Google Docs also offers collaborative editing in real-time. In addition, it’s possible to chat with other people in a file to discuss and decide together without leaving a document.
Who Hosts Data? What Devices Are Supported?
Confluence has two hosting options, Server and Cloud. So you can choose whether you want data to be stored on your server or in Atlassian Cloud, the hosting platform designed and used by Atlassian to deliver their applications as a service.
You can use Confluence on your desktop computer or laptop. It also has the mobile version, so users can access Confluence on their smartphones and tablets. Most desktop and mobile browsers are supported.
In Confluence Mobile users can view the dashboard and pages; go through notifications and tasks; like, comment and watch a page. However, there’re things they can’t do. For example, to create or edit a page, you have to switch to the desktop version.
Confluence iOS and Android applications for smartphone are more powerful (allow page creation and editing) than Confluence mobile and let you work with documents on the go, but they are currently available only for Confluence Cloud users.
Google Docs is a Web-based service. You can’t use it on-premises.
With Google Docs you can work with documents on your computer, laptop, Android or iOS devices. Google Docs also works in the majority of browsers.
To use Google Docs on your smartphone or tablet, you need to install Google Drive application. Android and iOS apps are well designed and let you easily create, edit and manage documents anywhere.
As well you can use Google Docs offline and have updates synchronized to the cloud when you have an Internet connection.
What’s the price?
Confluence offers free Community and Open Source licenses and $10 Starter licenses. For other users, there’s a 30-day free trial. The amount of money you pay for Confluence depends on the number of users you want to be included in your license. There are several user tier options to choose from.
Pricing for Cloud and Server versions is different:
- Server: you’re charged annually, e.g. a 10-user license costs $10, a 25-user license costs $1,400, a 500-user license costs $14,000 (per year). When you renew your license, you get a 50% discount. Learn more
- Cloud: you’re charged monthly, e.g. a 10-user license costs $10, a 25-user license costs $100, a 500-user license costs $500 (per month). Learn more
When you set up a Gmail account, you get 15 GB of free Google online storage and can use Google Docs for free. There are also paid plans that come with 30 GB or unlimited storage and additional features for business users:
- Basic plan is $5 per user per month
- Business plan is $10 per user per month
You can try paid plans for 14 days for free.
The tendency is that small teams often choose Google Docs and larger teams go with Confluence. There are also those who combine both tools and use them for different cases.
It’s nice that each of these solutions offers unique experience and powerful capabilities. That makes it easier to find a good fit and develop best practices that work for your team. And if there’s something missing, you can always extend your tool, either Confluence or Google Docs, with add-ons for Confluence and extensions for Google Docs that provide additional functions and features.