Reddit fascinates the internet with a simple button experiment

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A mistery button on Reddit is fascinating internet users.

It was early Wednesday April 1st, 2015. Organisations were publishing their April Fools’ jokes and people around the world were busy playing Pac-Man on Google Maps. The quiet and peaceful morning ended when Reddit staff announced the button:

When this post is 10 minutes old, a button and timer will become active at /r/thebutton. The timer will count down from 60 seconds. If the button is pressed the timer will reset to 60 seconds and continue counting down. Only users logged into accounts created before 2015-04-01 can press the button.

You may only press the button once.

We can’t tell you what to do from here on out. The choice is yours.

What started as a simple April Fools’ joke is still alive and kicking. More than two weeks after this social experiment started the timer has never reached below 20 seconds. Over 750000 accounts have pushed the button, and many more are waiting for the right time to spend their single click.

What is the button?

The button appeared on the /r/thebutton subreddit on April 1, 2015. The widget at the top of the page features a shielded button and a 60 second countdown. The actual button is at the left side. Clicking it once removes the lock, a second click pushes the actual button. Every time someone clicks the button, the timer at the right side resets to 60 seconds and starts to count down again.

Reddit's Button is accompanied by a 60 second countdown.

Only people that had their Reddit account before April 1st are able to push the button, and they can do it only once. This means that the amount of people able to push that shiny-looking blue button is shrinking pretty fast.

The button looks good, but you may only click it once.

What happens when the timer reachers zero?

The obvious question is what happens when nobody presses the button for 60 seconds. Nobody knows! Well, except for a bunch of programmers at Reddit, I suppose. And that is what makes the button so interesting. The effect may be positive or negative. The only way to know for sure is to let the button run out.

It may take a while, though. Chances are that a large number of users is waiting to click it just before the timer reaches zero. We know one thing for sure: As the number of accounts that are able to click is limited, it will run out of time one day…

The community

As in any other subreddit, a lot of discussion takes place. People that have pressed the button are assigned a custom flair to further increase competition between users. A flair is a short message or tag that is shown next to people’s names when they post something. Inside the subreddit, these flairs indicate the exact number on the timer when the user clicked the button. A grey “non-presser” flair is shown for users that haven’t clicked yet.

For some, the community could be even more interesting than the button itself. As nobody knows what will happen when the timer runs out, people are trying to convince others to follow their ways. Some say that the timer does nothing and that you should simply push the button. Others say that we have to keep it running as long as possible. And these discussions heat up from time to time.

Having a flair with a low number is pretty rare. If you wait for it to get to the lower numbers, the chance grows that someone is going to click it to get an equally low number. And if everyone waits too long, it may simply disappear when the timer reaches zero! As the experiment continues and less people are able to click the button, numbers that were previously impossible to get become available.

Statistical tools

As the subreddit grows older, people started writing tools to measure button clicks. I used one of the freely available statistics applications: During the writing of this article the timer never went below 26 seconds.

In the chart below, every line represents a single push on the button and indicates the value on the timer when the button was pushed.

This chart shows the timer value for the button pushes during the writing of this article

Have you pushed the button?

I didn’t push the button yet. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.