A Content “Must-Have” That’s Not Content

As part of our “Ask a Developer” series, where developer Jeff Fritz (a.k.a. @Csharpfritz on Twitch) asks fellow Twitch live coders questions that marketers have about technical content, we kept hearing about the importance of including online code editors or a code sandbox.

Several developers mentioned either or both when we asked them what made content developer-friendly. While code snippets were important, they weren’t enough, unless the content also provided online code editors or a code sandbox  to try code snippets out. This was cited as a best practice for everything from blogs, how-to’s, and documentation.

What Is an Online Code Editor? And a Sandbox?

Online code editors are environments that allow web developers to work with code without downloading anything. Entire web applications can be built and run without forcing a developer to download a single tool or API to their machine. Examples of specific code editors include CodeSandbox, Glitch, and CodePen.

A code sandbox can also be known as a test server, development server, or working directory. It is an isolated test environment that allows changes to code to be written and tested before incorporating them into working code. Companies like Cisco include their own code sandbox in their DevNet  developer community portal to reduce friction and frustration for their user community. Other companies may incorporate a code sandbox into their documentation to demonstrate how something works and allow the user to work with it and see the effects.

Why Incorporate These Environments?

  • Reduce Friction. Developers like Kristina Heishmann find that content that is hard to interact with eats up willpower. Make it easy for developers to try things as they learn about them, and they’ll stay immersed in your content and environment instead of bailing.
  • Increase Usefulness. Miko Charbonneau waxes eloquently toward the end of her interview about great documentation for a specific plugin that lets you see what is happening as you change the code in real time. The more useful the documentation, the better your brand is perceived by your technical audience.
  • Increase Efficiency. Erik Guzman and  Tyler Leonhardt were adamant about incorporating an online code editor or a code sandbox — in part because it saves them time. They can get their hands dirty immediately.

What They Are Not Telling You

What’s the unspoken reason why developers want online code editors and sandboxes? It’s because they make their work more fun, and let developers see some results right away. It FEELS good. It FEELS productive. It FEELS efficient. And it FEELS satisfying, professionally and personally.

So, if you want your brand to be associated with positive feelings, just take the advice of these developers. Incorporate access to a code editor or code sandbox within your content.

For the Road

It’s a no brainer — Developers want to try it before they buy it. Currency comes in different forms, and one of them is time. Reduce the time or perceived time it takes to check out the solutions your brand offers. Make it feel good (that is, useful and productive), and your developer audience may just have a little fun. At the very least, they’ll leave your content with a  good feeling that could lead to positive brand sentiment and even brand advocacy.