The UX of Confluence 5.5

I’ve been working on a new system for help articles at work.  We decided to try a Confluence Wiki from Atlassian.  I have to say, I have been pleasantly surprised by the excellent UX.  They clearly have poured a decent amount of love into this thing.  Here are some thoughts that come to mind:

Mobile Display
Just on a lark, I looked at a page on my phone.  It was perfect.  I didn’t need to mess with it, it just worked.  Smooth action, good font-size.  Menu looked right.  No bugs.  What more can I ask for?

Their whole macro language has a little bit of a learning curve, but has surprising flexibility.  The architecture of templates, blueprints, gadgets and macros gives us the ability to make all kinds of specially formatted widgets.  Again, not immediately obvious or intuitive, but once you get the hang of it, there is very little you can’t accomplish.

Probably the high point of the system.  It has thought of everything.  Easy keyboard shortcuts, nice markup, macro objects, automatic cut/paste/upload action.  Good affordance for power features without cluttering the UI.  One of the best editors I have seen.  Even better than WordPress (if that is possible).

There aren’t nearly as many as WordPress has, but it is a decent collection.  I am using the Ad Hoc Workflow plugin and it does exactly what we need with flexibility for the future.  I’m sure I will use more in the future.

Confluence Questions
They have a product that is called Questions.  It’s pretty much a straight rip-off of StackExchange.  With that said, it’s still great.  If you are going to copy a UI, copy the best.  It works like a charm.  I’m a little confused as to how they handle the pricing for it, specifically how do they define a “user”.  This could make it a little pricey.

Speaking of pricing, the lowest level, which gives a read-only view is trivially cheap, like $10-30 bucks.  However, as soon as you go over the 10 user level it costs thousands.  The self-hosted one is a one-time fee, I believe.  They could make this clearer, but I understand they want to make money in the enterprise space too.

OK, here is some bad news.  The admin section is not good.  There are like a hundred items in the nav and it’s hard to see which one is LIT.  It doesn’t stay on the screen, so you lose your context pretty quick.  They seriously need to think about the information architecture and make an easier way to navigate different admin functions.  It’s out of control.

There actually is alot, but I find it often more confusing than helpful.  They have separate docs for every version.  That must be exhausting for them to maintain.  This is why SaaS is such a good model.  I don’t envy their docs department.  Asking them to make it better is easy, but I know it’s easier said than done.

I love it for a documentation site.  I think it’s the best tool I have seen for it.  Lot’s of little nice touches.  Not perfect, but very well done.


Yesterday, I showed my kids the meme of “planking”.  Admittedly, this is a fairly dated meme, but they are young, so it’s new to them.

Planking is a photo fad which involves lying face down with arms to the sides in unusual public spaces, photographing the scene and sharing the image online. In form, it bears striking resemblance to the Lying Down Game, a similar photo fad that became popular among UK Facebook users in 2010.

Here is a photo one of my kids sent me today.


And my youngest made up his own meme that he called Snailing.


I like that he is going outside the box.  I’ll have to show them LeBroning, Tebowing and maybe even Faith Hilling. I did a Google search for planking.  Some of the photos crack me up.  Some, I can’t believe someone can even do that.  Here is my favorite.  Difficulty and high kickassity levels.




The UX of Breaking Bones

My kid just broke his arm.


He was on a skateboard for the first time.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, he smacked onto the pavement and broke both big bones in his forearm.  Luckily, he was only a block away and his brothers came and got me.

I could see from 40 feet away.  Yup, broken.  Just like Joe Thiesmann’s leg. (1:42) **Warning** Do not click that link.  Do not look.  Look away! You have been warned.

Anyway, Jared seemed fine when I saw him.  His arm looked like a boomarang, and it hurt a little but mostly he was fine.  Obviously, he was in shock.  I immediately got him in the car and started driving to the emergency room.

During the ride (20 minutes), the shock started to wear off.  The pain started showing up.  It wasn’t pretty.  He was starting to panic.  We arrived at the emergency room and walked right in.  They knew it what happened immediately and walked us to a triage station.

The nurse asked him, “On a scale of 1-10, how much does it hurt?”  His answer could be seen on the look on his face.  It screamed, “Duh! 10!”

They gave him some drugs pretty quickly.  The pain subsided to a 5 out of 10.  Next, x-rays.  Yup broken.  Then they needed the anesthesiologist to knock him out to fix it.  They said they needed to wait 8 hours after last eating.  I get why they do this, but it meant we had to wait until 2:30 am to get his arm fixed.

He hung in there like a trooper.  They knocked him out and then manhandled his arm until the bones snapped back into place with an audible CLICK.  Then a nice soft cast because there is swelling.  In a few days, he will get a hard cast for 2 months.

The hospital was a pleasant enough experience, but you could tell that every person was very careful with their words.  There is a very real malpractice lawsuit potential in a hospital.  They never want to mismanage expectations.  Better to say, “I don’t know”.

I’ve broken my wrist and ankle. There were lawsuits about the ankle, which were settled, but I think in hindsight it was all my fault. The psychology is straight-forward, we feel that broken bones are painful and inconvenient.  We should be paid for this situation.  We sue because we don’t want to feel like it’s just my own damn fault for climbing over that snowpile.  Or for Jared, stepping on that skateboard.

Clearly, there are times when someone legitimately screws up, like being drunk during an operation.  But lawsuits for malpractice have made it difficult to practice medicine, which have made it very expensive.

Broken bones heal.  I’m not sure how we heal the other parts.

GarageBand Thank You

I’ve got alot of different kinds of computers in my house.  A desktop from dell, a little Intel NUC, a Mac Mini, iPads, xBoxes, etc etc.  I am not generally a Mac user, but I help my kid with his Mac Mini.

He (11 yrs old)  is a musician and plays drums and base guitar.  He is experimenting with writing music.  I said, “Hey! GaraBand on the Mac is supposed to be good.”  So last night, we started using it.  Keep in mind, I am not an Apple fanboy and use Windows 8.1 most of the time.

Let me just cut to the chase; GarageBand is fantastic.  It’s so easy to use and get started.  It has ridiculous amounts of features.  He literally write original music in a few minutes.

Take a listen.

Now, I am a proud father of course, but still, that kicks ass.  He just needs to add guitar and vocals and we will be rich!  Famous rock stardom here we come!

Well, maybe not immediately, but with GarageBand we feel confident.  Thank you Apple.

By the way…Apple doesn’t make alot of money off GarageBand at all.  It seems like a lifestyle product.  I am thrilled that they put resources towards it and hope it continues.  Sometimes wonderful products like that get shelved when the going gets tough.  Thank you again Apple!

Broken Links in Blogs

I have been blogging for a long time.  17 Years, to be exact.  In my blog posts, I will often link to an image or somewhere on the web.  This is a terrible practice.  Here is why:

I just downloaded a wordpress plugin to find broken links in my posts.  I have almost 600 broken links.  The images disappear.  The pages no longer exist.  I don’t mind those links possibly not linking anymore, but the broken images suck.  Especially the ones that used to be on my Picassa site.

Best Practice:  Upload the images INTO wordpress.  Don’t rely on someone else’s site.  Bring them directly in.

Shovel or Hole

I heard a phrase:  People don’t buy shovels, they buy holes.

It’s taken me a very long while to respond to this because it sounds so good.  It rolls off the tongue and has an unexpected, logical quality.  It seems right, doesn’t it.


The only problem is that it is completely, utterly, 100% wrong.

People don’t buy holes.  They don’t go to stores and ask for holes.  They don’t imagine holes on the way to the store.  They buy shovels, plain and simple.  They buy the shovel to make a hole, but that is for later.  What is on people’s minds is what they know they LITERALLY need.  They need a shovel to achieve their goal.

When I was at Intuit, every marketing manager said we should put pictures of happy people on the website.  Since they test everything, I was able to learn that this strategy was always a fantasy.  The winner every time?  The box.



I started telling people, “Nothing beats the box.”  But the question is why?  The answer is deeply rooted in psychology.  But here is a simple rendition of the mental model:

The person hears/sees something about Quicken.  They understand it’s something to do with money and bills and stuff.  They have seen in the store what it looks like.  It looks like a box.

Enter the internet:  They go to and see happy people.  They say, “hmm, this isn’t what I was looking for” and they click the back button.  They bounce. Then they go to Amazon and find the box.  They purchase it and DOWNLOAD the software.  No box needed.  They don’t care at that point.  Once they found the box, they knew they were in the right place.

I notice this struggle all of the time.  Marketers want to sell the dream and higher level goals.  However, people are just going to look and say, “Am I in the right place?  Im looking for ________”.  If they don’t see a literal interpretation of that, they will click the back button and bounce.

Think about the thing you sell.  Does your website say it clearly and obviously or does it couch the whole thing in “happy talk“?  The more literal you are, the more successful the site will be.

In short, don’t name your store “Holes”, name your store “Shovels” and you will make alot more money.

Psychology of Acqui-hiring

An interesting thought experiment came up today.

A company I know acquired another company for 8 figures.  The purpose was Acqui-Hire.  This is the practice of acquiring a company for the talent, not for the product.  There were not alot of people in the company and the acquiring company immediately shut down the product.  The purpose was talent acquisition, nothing else.

This is common practice all over Silicon Valley, dozens of times or more per year.  The amount of money paid out sometimes is pretty stunning.  Sometimes 7-8 figures PER PERSON ACQUIRED.  Of course, the employees usually don’t see that money, but the acquiring company writes the check nonetheless.  This post is focusing on the acquiring company point of view, not the employees.

Now imagine a slightly different scenario.  The company being acquired had a superstar who left 1 month before the acquisition.  Let’s say she was a key engineer, for example.  The acquiring company really wanted her skills/talent.  Let’s also imagine she was available to hire.

Question: How much should they be willing to pay for her?

Using logical accounting, they should be willing to pay the same premium they did for the acquired company employees.  (7+ figures per person)  However, this hardly ever happens.

I think the reason is psychological.  When acquiring a company, there is an abstraction.  It’s not one person so the psychology allows the value to be calculated without anything in the way.  How much value would the company get versus how much money would it cost? Also how much time/energy/money would it cost to hire the equivalent people without the acqui-hire?  Also, what opportunity cost would you lose spending that time?  Pretty straight-forward stuff.  It makes sense to acqui-hire if you find the right fit.

However, when it’s an individual, I think psychology jumps in full-force.  I asked a few people at work of this scenario and everyone thought the individual shouldn’t get that kind of money.  The said, “It feels wrong!”  I think an individual is too easy to personally associate with as if they are thinking “I’m a person, they are a person, I don’t get that kind of money!”

People often have difficultly measure value against cost when it comes to individuals.  Abstraction is needed.

The closest industry to do this correctly may be professional sports.  However, they have statistics that show predictions and historical reference of how much value he/she will generate.  Silicon Valley superstars are harder to evaluate. (Although accuracy of those predictions in sports is notoriously inaccurate)

Silicon Valley superstars come in many departments including sales, marketing, design, engineering, ops and support to name a few.  Superstars provide value of 10X what a normal “good” employee does.  It’s a power curve.

Psychology effects all people, no one is immune.  It’s interesting to think how this works in our everyday lives.  It’s hard to be logical all the time.  I envy Mr. Spock.

UX = User Experience