The wonderful rainbow world of /r/thebutton

21 Apr

Let me get this out of the way: I’m a grey. A non presser. Not because I’ve made the decision to never press it — I will, before I leave for my trip — but because I’m waiting until it matters… or I can nab red flair.

animated gif of the countdown clock and button from Reddit's "the button"

You can only press the button once. Only accounts created before 2015-04-01 can press the button. We can’t tell you what to do from here on out. The choice is yours.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the button; it’s so mainstream that even Time covered it and Fox News got their tighty-whities in a bunch over it, but this Vox piece is a good overview with some details. I, um, appropriated the image above from their article.  Shhh.

While the button itself interests me, the button community is more fascinating. Groups of button-protecting knights have formed, committed to keeping the timer alive. Button “religions” with different philosophies around the button have emerged, many of which are waiting for the Pressiah, the final presser before time runs out. Pranks have come and gone, as have campaigns to get the greys to all become purples or wait until the clock ticks down into the teens or below. There have been reports of auto-click trojan software and trolls tricking unsuspecting users into clicking before they planned.

Users are also rolling around in data like happy puppies. People have developed bots to track statistics and post when the button reaches a new low time. (As I’m writing, 15 seconds was the lowest click.)  Here’s a list of some of the known button analytic resources. Some visualizations can explain the progress more clearly than numbers, like this graph that user incitatus451 posted:

graph plotting number of clicks each day against the remaining seconds on the timer for each click

You can see the community growing more daring over the past three weeks, with oranges finally appearing over the weekend but as of yet, no legitimate reds. When I first discovered the button, the timer was always reset before the 30 second mark. Now, it’s not unusual for me to see low 20s and upper teens before someone clicks. The ranges for flair colors can be found on the subreddit wiki. Of course, when the button first launched, there were few instructions and no information about flair colors, so these have been determined over time and red is still a guess.

As long as the rules remain in place, the button timer must eventually run out. There are a finite number of Reddit accounts created before April 1st; even if every single qualified user clicked the button, the pool would be depleted. Users have calculated when that day might come, on various assumptions of the average click time. It’s vastly more likely that the timer will run out when there are few greys online — the hours before dawn in the Americas, when it’s still early in Europe — and there is a lapse of attention or users wait too long in the quest for a low number. Nobody knows what will happen when the timer reaches 0. It could simply vanish. I wonder if Reddit expected their April Fools’ Day launch to last and develop as it has.

Even if you pressed long ago or can’t press because you don’t have a pre-April 1 account, it’s worth spending a little time in the subreddit. There a lot of clever gifs and interesting graphs, and you can almost feel the anticipation. If you have a qualified account but have been ignoring the button hype, when you go to the subreddit, the button will show as greyed with a lock symbol over it. The REAL button is blue and only appears after you have clicked to unlock it, so you don’t have to be concerned about an accidental click.

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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Culture, Usage Patterns


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