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Special Project

Special Project
From the 8th Annual Shorty Awards

What Is Code?

Finalist in Integrated Campaign, News


What is code? The modern world is built on it. You rely on it from the moment your alarm clock wakes you up to the time you sit down to watch TV before bed.

Code is all around us. It's ingrained in our politics, economy and media. Entrepreneurs and companies have made trillions of dollars off of it with products that have changed our lives. Hackers have used it to wreak havoc on individuals, businesses and governments.

It is arguably the most important technology (and news story) of our time. But so few of us really understand it.

The objective of 'What Is Code' was to demystify this phenomenon for our readers and viewers—and anyone else who wants to learn. We hoped to tell a compelling and informative story that would excite our current audience and captivate new ones across platforms (and especially social media.) We also wanted to create a tool, a resource, that people could return to and reference days, months, or years later.

Strategy and Execution

To tell a story on code that would reach as many people as possible, Bloomberg Business asked journalist-programmer Paul Ford to pen a 38,000-word essay as part of a months-long editorial initiative that combined the best work of our social, digital, print, TV, and radio teams.

The online experience for 'What Is Code' centers around a highly-shareable, interactive website where visitors can explore all facets of code, from was basic programming to developer culture. Social engagement was at the heart of this project, and the website was built around it.

A friendly robot widget guides visitors through the site's various sections, each of which have graphics, games, GIFs, or videos that help tell the story. (There's even a 'certificate of completion' at the end of the experience that captures the reader's photo.) Many of these multimedia elements can be shared directly to Twitter through customized social buttons with their own anchor links. This gives readers the flexibility to share the parts of the essay they find most interesting, and we designed the website so that social users could jump into the experience at different entry points without feeling lost.

We also promoted the website heavily on our branded social accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Facebook and Twitter were especially important to our promotion plan, and we used multimedia from the website and made-for-social graphics to drive audience engagement. For Facebook, we used organic post targeting to zero in on groups we thought would share the link. We incorporated social promotion of the essay with our Bloomberg Tech 2015 conference, where Paul Ford was a presenter, and used the hashtag #BTech15 on Twitter.

Here are some examples of our branded social media posts:

We also published the entire essay on GitHub, a social platform for programmers:

In addition to our social and digital efforts, Bloomberg Businessweek dedicated an entire double-issue to 'Code.' (This was the first time in the publication's history that a single story consumed an entire issue.) The magazine treatment for 'Code' included custom graphics and visualizations that were optimized for print.

Bloomberg Radio featured the story in on-air segments as well. And Paul Ford and Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel joined 'Charlie Rose' on Bloomberg TV, so viewers could hear firsthand about the project and what it has to offer:


'What Is Code' was an incredible success. We achieved our goal of telling a story that would help people understand an important and complex topic—and we leveraged multiple channels (social, digital, print, TV and radio) to reach the widest audience possible.

Thanks to these efforts, 'Code' was the most visited page on in 2015 by page views and the second-most visited page by unique visitors. More than half of unique visitors came from social sources, and 'Code' was the top page for unique visitors from Twitter.

The project got such a huge response on Twitter that the term 'what is code' started trending on the network shortly after it was published. The project's open-source code started trending on GitHub as well.

Our branded social media posts saw tremendous engagement, and several social media influencers (including Bill Gates) shared the link with their followers.

The print version of 'What Is Code' was Businessweek's best-selling issue in North America for 2015.

The project has been covered, and praised widely, by major news organizations, including The Guardian, Poynter, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz,, Nieman Lab, Politico, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, and more.

'Code' also won an Ellie at the National Magazine Awards for Best Single-Topic Issue.


Video for What Is Code?

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Bloomberg Business