Winter bugs

Here at Edge Hill we’ve used Trac for quite some time in Web Services. I’ve been here for more than a year and a half now and during this period the team have greatly increased their use of Trac for ticketing problems, monitoring source changes, and more recently tracking Scrum Sprint progress. While Trac is great we need more – we want more – we’re bias.

We use Confluence heavily, the Faculty of Health have it as home to many documents and information for staff, students and external partners, we’re moving our Intranet into it, we also use it as our team wiki for documentation and the like. So as you can see, we have a fair bit invested in it. Confluence is made by Atlassian and these great folks also make JIRA.

We’ve heard many great things about JIRA and seen it in action ourselves when dealing with Atlassian. We think it’s great, has good integration and with the GreenHopper it’ll help us with our Scrum agile project management!

That’s the plan anyway!

Whilst we’re at it we’re taking the opportunity to install FishEye too. This will give us some awesome insight into what we’re actually coding and allow some great collaboration and knowledge sharing without much effort at all. If your a stats junky the numbers and graphs this thing makes is awesome!

Do your use JIRA?

One project to rule them all (ala Second Life’s Linden Labs) or many little ones?

What are your favourite things about FishEye?

Your Wiki!

In an earlier post on our wiki I mentioned that we use Confluence from Atlassian this company has a good and steady release cycle. Currently we’re couple of versions behind the latest, but hopefully that’ll soon be addressed by a move to a new much faster server!

Some of the fixes and new features that we’ll get when we upgrade are:

  • The Widget Connector – a quick an easy way to embed content from Youtube, Flickr, etc etc.
  • Various fixes and upgrades to the Rich Text Editor
  • The Macro Browser – this is an awesome new tool that is part of the RTE that allows you to browse for useful macro’s to add features to your confluence pages in a quick and easy way
  • Various performance issues have been solved
  • The Confluence PDF export has been drastically improved, especially that you can provide a PDF CSS stylesheet
  • Office 2007 files are now fully supported, searchable and embeddable in the latest version of Confluence which is just great!

Is the wiki being used?

We’ve had over 20,000 page views in the past month and we still haven’t fully launched the system to the university at whole! That being said, the Faculty of Health whom I work for have been using it extensively over the past year at least.

A quick breakdown:


Currently we’ve got about four and a half thousand pages in the wiki, with about sixteen thousand versions of these pages. That averages out to about four and a half versions of each page. There are also almost ten thousand documents attached to pages on the wiki.. Good work on editing people!

Wiki Meetings

Early on in the New Year the old Intranet here at Edge Hill will be abolished. All of its content will be available directly through GO. The platform we’re hosting this content under is called Confluence and it’s a wiki.

To the majority of people this won’t mean much right now but we’re hoping in the future it will. You’ll be able to manage your own content on GO for dissemination to colleagues you work with on a daily basis and those you work with across the university.

This new way of managing things will hopefully reduce the amount of out of date information that is out there. You shouldn’t be emailing around Word documents within the university. Because the moment you send that document it’s out of date, your recipient just doesn’t know it yet!

Lets take Meeting Agenda’s as an example. The below video describes why you shouldn’t be emailing meeting agendas and why you should start using a wiki:

The Faculty of Health is already doing stuff like this, posting meeting dates in their calendar, having agendas online, with misc documents for the meeting available on each meetings dedicated pages. You department can too!

Another brilliant use of the wiki is to keep track of action points:

These excellent videos are courtesy of Stewart Mader’s 21days you can find a lot more videos there and other extremely useful wiki related resources.

Confluence Design Templates

25 by Leo Reynolds.In a previous post How to Skin a Wiki, I was adamant that the Wiki design should be basic: This assertion was based on principle, but furthermore on naivety, as I was a novice when it came to Wiki mark-up. I now have some understanding of the potential for more complex design layouts in Confluence.

Is this it?

I got a sense that clients were underwhelmed by the simplicity of a basic Wiki page, and also that there was no way of presenting familiar content in an interesting way. As Confluence allows you to create templates as a starting point for a page, we decided to create some layouts.

When we began training staff to use the Wiki , we demonstrated the templates and I found that they struck a chord. I felt they accentuated the potential of the Wiki , and helped soften the learning curve.


There is a basic image with text layout; one that incorporates RSS feeds; and others that enable departments to emphasise specific sections within their site …

Example 1


Example 2


A-Z lists and FAQs

These are pages that are commonly found on department sites. I expect there will be more examples like this that will also be made into templates.

A-Z Document List





I also created a macro to display contact details, which outputs the same vcard mark-up that we use on the corporate site.


What’s Up Docs?

image There are big changes coming to the staff intranet!  The staff intranet, also known as “docs”, is the default homepage for staff on campus and has served us well for the last… actually I don’t know how many years!  But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the systems – both process and technical – are not able to scale with the growth of the University and with the increasing reliance on the web as a publishing point.

Along side the staff intranet, for the last three years we have had GO, our portal system available to both staff and students offering single sign on access to a range of web-based services from Edge Hill.  While it’s been possible to access the intranet via GO, it’s never been well integrated but our changes will move to a single platform.

For about a year we’ve been slowly growing our use of Confluence, an enterprise wiki system which will manage most of the content available through GO.  To date the Faculty of Health has been the largest user as part of their extranet project but over the next few months we will be implementing the migration of the contents of the staff intranet into Confluence.

We’ll be using this opportunity to give sites a good winter clean and give access to departments to enable them to easily create and update pages and link to files, all through a web interface.  The wiki offers a number of other benefits such as searching across pages and documents, and – of course – integrates with many other services available through GO.

GO and the staff intranet are very different beasts and so we’ll be making further developments to aid the transition.  Some of these might be temporary such as a new default homepage for people who haven’t yet taken advantage of the personalisation available through GO.  Other changes will apply to everyone including students.

I’m pretty excited by the changes that are coming and we’ll be introducing some possibly as soon as early December so stay tuned to find out more!

How To Skin A Wiki

Lay the Wiki on its back on a flat surface, and pinch the skin at the loose part in the lower belly………

Only joking, as we know a wiki isn’t a furry woodland critter that makes a durable Davy Crockett style hat. A Wiki is a website, with pages that can be easily updated via an interface, using simplified mark-up language. We are using Confluence, a “simple, powerful wiki that lets you create and share pages, documents and rich content with your team.”

What is the Difference between Designing and Skinning?

I’d define skinning as styling pages that already exist, a bit like redecorating a hall with outdated floral borders along the skirting boards. Whereas design is a process, where every stage is considered, from conception to sign-off.

I have already written about when you should and shouldn’t re-skin a site, it is generally frowned upon unless fresh functionality is being added. Skinning a wiki is different; it is a way of creating a bespoke skin that is true to the branding of your company or institution.


  • I wanted to approach the project as if I were designing for the corporate site. Even though I knew I would be working with pre existing code and structure, I still wanted to work from a finished design developed in Photoshop.
  • I wanted to work with the same web fonts as the corporate site: Arial for headings and Verdana for regular text. Also to use consistent spacing, line-heights, link-colours etc
  • I wanted to create a look and feel consistent with the GO portal, to contrive the semblance of a single application when navigating between the two.

Photoshop Designs

As noted in my previous post about GO, I’ve been determined to dispense with any conspicuous decoration, especially repeated background images and drop-shadows, I wanted the design to have a clear, utilitarian quality.

standard layout

The wiki breadcrumb and dropdown menus match the tabs in GO. The background images are white PNGs with their alpha transparency set to 30%; the background colour of the header can be altered, and consequently the tab’s transparent background image appears as a tint of that colour.

An example of this colour effect with the skin applied to the mail system:

Web Mail

The wiki will include intranet sites for University departments; they will be accessed via customised GO panels. We intend these sub-sites to have visually interesting and instantly navigable homepages.

Applying the design to Confluence

I soon realised that my idealistic intentions were a little impractical, when I noted the amount of page layouts, and methods of displaying data that Confluence offered. To try to design up front for every consequence was naïve, so I decided to stick to the most basic layouts only, and then play it by ear.

Confluence has a whole heap of style sheets with many generations of classes. Without Firebug and the Web Developer toolbar for Firefox, it would have been like deciphering the riddle of the sphinx.

As designers tend to do, I started from the top. Getting the breadcrumb, search-bar and drop-down menus to look indistinguishable from GO, this seemed fairly straightforward; then I cross checked it in IE7 and Opera and I quickly remembered how much easier it is to style your own code.

After this I concentrated on the basics: headings, paragraphs, lists, links, tables and forms, really trying not to be drawn toward the more idiosyncratic elements. When I approached elements that were unconsidered in the preparatory stage, I tried to apply principles that were consistent with what I already had. I removed borders, margins and text indents that busied the page composition, defining spatial consistency and alignment.

Was I Successful?

Well I’m still trying to iron out some cross browser quirks, especially where elements are floated, and CSS attributes have been inherited in varying orders, so this question is slightly premature. This will be an ongoing project that will throw up conflicts as different departments evaluate how they want their content to be displayed.

Evaluating things from how it looks in Firefox, I’m fairly pleased with the results; the pages look less like Confluence pages, and more like Edge Hill web pages, but there are still many echoes of the default look and feel. I think I have been successful in spacing the layout so that the pages flow better, and are easier to speed-read and analyse at a glance.

Where Now?

  • Internal faculty and departmental sites will gradually be moved into Confluence over the coming months replacing the current intranet.
  • The skin will be adapted appropriately for other systems like online mail and Blackboard.

Question time with Dan

[Note: this was written way back on the 5th of December but has been stuck in perpetual draft status till I could find a decent picture. Oh well, I couldn’t. So here it is :-)]

So yesterday was a long day indeed. But it was quite worthwhile and I’ve managed to glean a few tips, tricks and directions to go with for our Confluence install. Yesterday was the Atlassian User Group Workshop down in London town. Mike Nolan and myself made trip down courtesy of Virgin Trains, arriving just in time for a spot of lunch and then to the Bonnington on Bloomsbury Square.

The event started with the usual meet and greet where I got the opportunity to match a few faces to the names and websites that I’ve been conversing with on Twitter, JIRA and and mining for knowledge on wiki adoption. Emma Wallace from Social8 made an immediate impression on me, talking briefly about asking users the right questions and about getting the user to see that this knew way of working (on a wiki) is going to be beneficial for them, so encouraging their uptake. I received a very knowing look when I said we were working on the implementation first, and thinking more about user uptake afterwards.. this is a common mistake, a situation we hope to rectify.

I also got a chance to chat to Boo Armstrong from Get Well UK who was looking to implement Confluence, she was after peoples opinions, pitfalls and views. When I was asked what my favourite bit of Confluence was, I thought for just a moment, and then it hit me – WebDav. In a project where your taking the unwieldy jungle of a shared network drive and trying to convert people to the wonders of wiki collaboration and benefits of sexy search, giving them the ability to drag and drop their existing file structure into the wiki and build around it is a very nice feature indeed. It was also nice to chat to the Adaptavist folks since they’re only from down the road from us and they’re who we bought our Confluence from.

After the meet and greet first up was Josh Wold from Atlassian who gave a full run down of the past 6 months progress of the company and where their products where going in the future. It was quite an interesting round up and well presented.

Next was Alex Lotoczko from NYK Europe who talked about the use of their wiki’s particularly when working with the BBC on “The Box” project. My main interest was admittedly the box.. I feel more detail could have been gotten into regarding the usage of the wiki, perhaps some statistics and screenshots from the wiki itself. I got more from Stewart Mader‘s post on the subject of NYK’s Confluence intranet project.

The people and personalities using the wiki are the most important aspect. Without getting them on board it’s all pointless really. Emma Wallace talked to us in great detail about people and the right questions to ask them. Are you asking the right questions? I most certainly wasn’t, but I hope to in the future. You need ask people the right questions to help them learn and understand that (hopefully) the ways of the wiki and collaboration is good for them, will enable them to work more efficiently, and win the lottery. Well maybe not the last bit, but you get the point.

Next up was what I found the most useful, and so named my blog post such! Question time with Dan was effectively what it was. It was meant to be a more open discussion, customer to customer, user to user I believe but by and large it was an open floor to ask Dan questions and tap his knowledge. I’d had a question or two answered during the meet and great about reporting and stats which I was greatly interested in so I didn’t really actively take part in this session. I was being a sponge and soaking up all the knowledge that flowed over me. There were some interesting questions being asked and some even more in the spirit of the session were asked openly to the group. All 70-80ish of us where sat around the outer edges of the room. I don’t really feel this was all that ideal and left some people not asking questions that they might have asked in a more cosy environment. The open talking was good, I just think some nice 20 people round tables would have been more conducive to open chatter about our problems and triumphs with the software.

All in all it was quite a good day and I’ll be improving our Confluence install and uptake because of it, and would definitely recommend any Atlassian products users to go along in the future.

I’ll quickly add a thank you to Oleg from Cisco who introduced me to Asahi beer after the conference.. thanks! Also that we missed the last Liverpool – London train home due to trusting the more sensibly sounding directions of a couple of local southern boys and walking quite a way away from Euston before realising in our peril we were about 250 yards from it when we asked! Getting home at 2:10 am, and into work at 8:50 show’s my dedication to the job 😉

Steve Daniels