News & Views

Decoded / Social Data in a Day

by Contagious Team

Alex Jenkins gets down and dirty with development and social data

At the end of last year, Contagious sent our Insider consultant and coding noob Ed White along to Decoded, the programming collective, to see if the team could make good on their promise to teach anyone to code in a day. (They did).

Following the launch of Decoded's latest offering, Social Data in a Day, Contagious Feed Editor, Alex Jenkins, headed to its London studio to see if he could follow in the footsteps of Zuckerberg and build a social media empire worth billions in just eight hours. (He didn't). 

The course itself offers attendees the chance to not only get down and dirty with some div tags, but also build their own web apps while accessing APIs from some of the world's biggest social networks. 

In the same vein as Code in a Day, the morning kicked off with an informal look at the history of the social web, including some of the 'Oh my god, I can't believe we used to use that' websites. Then it was time to fire up the Macbook Airs and start taking tentative steps into the world of code with a primer on the basics of HTMLCSS and JavaScript, all learned by our group as we created our own unique web apps with appropriate hand-holding from the Decoded tutors.

Each step introduced the group to a variety of coding resources, such as GitHub and jQuery, before we got hands on with the Facebook API, using some of its features, including the ubiquitous Like and 'Login with Facebook' buttons, in our live examples. Later in the day, the Decoded team demonstrated how the principles being taught could easily be applied to other freely-available APIs, such as LinkedIn. The day ended with each participant showcasing their completed, socially-integrated app to the rest of the group over a round of equally social beers.

Decoded claims that the course is ideal for people looking to apply an understanding of coding to a commercial context and, while it certainly does that, it goes beyond the practical skills of integrating an API into a web app to offer an insight into some of the higher-level issues around social media. For example, it's fair to say that many of the people on the course were surprised at just how easy it was to retrieve anyone's personal details from Facebook and, through an appropriately-coded app, pull in all of the data of that person's contacts too. It came as a similar surprise for many of the group to learn that, once logged in to Facebook, the social network could track users' activity across any external sites using its API. For developers it may be old news, but from a marketer's perspective, it's a moment of revelation - demonstrating the potential for automatically harvesting huge quantities of consumer data while simultaneously highlighting just how easily a brand can cross the ethical line into privacy invasion. 

When questions such as 'what's our social strategy?' are often a shorthand for 'what's our Facebook strategy?' (or even 'what can we do with the 1% of our TV budget we've got left over?'), a course such as Social Data in a Day not only broadens marketers' horizons of what is possible but also begins to raise more philosophical questions about why consumers should trust brands with their data and how transparent brands need to be in this area. 

Then there's the issue of quality. Every person in our group created a web app in one day, with most attendees starting with a less-than basic level of coding ability. While there are some great branded examples of social web apps, there's also a fair amount which don't appear to have received the attention which our group gave to its enthusiastic but amateur efforts. Equally, our basic creations were designed to meet a genuine, if niche, need of the user, while many branded efforts clearly serve a need of the creator. 

As a coding education becomes increasingly accessible to people of all ages, it may not be long before we begin to see people shy away from marketers' blatant attempts to scrape their data, not just because of privacy concerns, but because they could have built that app themselves to a higher standard. 

Contagious Feed Editor, Alex Jenkins, will be on stage with Decoded co-founder and all-round adland legend Steve Henry at our London Now/Next/Why event to discuss the impact of a coding generation on the advertising industry.