The Reddit Button finally ended, and nothing happened

This article appeared on the TouchVision website June 5th, 2015. I am reuploading it today because I am about to publish an article on Forbes where I reference this material.

The social experiment known as the Button has ended, and people still don’t know what it was really about. And maybe that is the point.  

On April Fool’s Day, Reddit announced a new site feature, a button with a 60-second timer that you could only press once. Pressing the Button reset the timer, keeping everyone guessing when and if it would ever run down to zero. Pressers received a color badge to represent what time they pressed. It was all very mysterious and vague, and the Reddit community proceeded to treat it like a role-playing game, concocting elaborate stories, religions and color-based factions about what the Button was, figuratively, and what would happen when the timer ran out. Art, data visualizations and applications, thoughtful discussions and flame wars flourished.

Then last Friday, after more than one million people clicked the button, the timer hit zero, and it was all over with little to no fanfare. Some users took to expressing sentiments along the lines of, “We’re free at last!!!” — free from the tyranny that is the Button. Quite a few, however, were disappointed: “What was the point..? Where’s the ending? WHERE IS OUR CLOSURE!?!?” asked WannabeGroundhog. Another disappointed user, Psychotic Whispers, was expecting some sort of trophy, like 2013’s April Fool’s prank that ended with Orangered and Periwinkle trophies.  

“It ended a bit too… Suddenly,” they said. “Others on Team 60s were expecting the same, as were some in Knights of The Button and Emerald Council, and I’m sure there are more than just those.”

Russian programmer Andrey, who goes by mncke on Reddit and was part of the Knights of the Button faction, has been the subject of much ire in the button’s aftermath, as it was his application that failed and allowed the timer to hit zero. Andrey had designed a few applications to keep the button from reaching zero, the latest being theNecromancer, which employed a robot zombie army of potential Button-pressers. These “zombie” accounts were shadow-banned and inactive accounts that had been donated to him. The particular zombie account that was scheduled to press on Friday was in fact ineligible (it was created after April 1), it couldn’t press the button when it was scheduled.

“I am sorry to have failed you all, but to err is human,” he wrote in a Reddit post.

Other Knights have thanked Andrey for his contributions and for prolonging the life of the Button.

“Every day I’d check in to see what unpredictable turn the sub had taken and spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about the philosophical implications of it,” wrote one Knight of the Button named immaterialist, in encouragement. “So, you have my appreciation for giving us more time. No judgment for the can’t-presser miss.”

Blackleaf, another Knight of the Button, called Andrey a “hero” in an interview, saying “heroes are human too.”

Despite the timer running out, other Button users are still playing — not ready to give up on this text-based, choose-your-own-adventure game. The last registered press of the button before its demise belonged to BigGoron, who has taken to lording over related subreddits, with users role-playing that he (or she) is the “Pressiah” and donating Reddit gold to him or her. As of this writing, BigGoron has 23 months of Reddit gold. Some Knights refuse to acknowledge BigGoron as the true Pressiah, calling the failed zombie the real Pressiah, instead. Then you have the Pink Legion that has somehow managed to gain control over two faction subreddits, the Emerald Council and the Sun Guardians.

Both Psychotic Whispers and Andrey said their favorite part of the Button was the community aspect of it, and the various fundraisers. It makes sense then, that some people would want to keep playing, to keep the community alive. Users made friends, one couple got engaged, two others used the button to battle their alcohol addiction. In all, more than 50 subreddits were created around the Button.

Reddit did not respond to requests for comment, and the creator of the Button, powerlanguage, told NBC what we already know: It was “an “art project or social experiment … I just wanted to put it out there and let the Reddit community decide what to do with it.”

In lieu of a statement, Reddit has published a blog post celebrating the contributions of the community, writing “more incredible things emerged from the Button than we could have anticipated.”

Ramses the Pigeon, the founder of the Button church known as the Grey Hopeful, said he had a feeling from the beginning that the Button would end in an anti-climax. “I’m made absolutely giddy by the fact that no explanation for it all seems forthcoming,” he said. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Kaufmanesque humor, and an anti-joke of this variety is exactly the sort of thing that leaves me in tears of laughter.”

By not giving a reason, from the very beginning, Reddit forced the community to create their own. It was an “exploration of the human condition,” concluded one user named Xenics, rightly. “The struggle for meaning in a complex world shows us who we are, and this is exemplified by our communal efforts to understand, quantify, and control the button, and through it, our own self-being,” they said.

Some people chose to be villains, scientists, armchair psychologists, charity organizers or activists. Others role-played as heroes, story-tellers, scribes and religious figures. As a social experiment, the Reddit Button was akin to a Rorschach test but as an online text-based game. Users that put the most effort in — they used their imaginations and got the most out of Reddit’s social experiment. In this way, the Button is a mirror of our world, of our own existence: We don’t know why we are here, but we create meaning for ourselves in our own lives, with the only certainty being the passage of time.

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