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It Took 65 Days, But Finally Nobody Pushed ‘The Button’

I’ve been working with NPR to discuss a number of the week. This time it’s 65 — that’s the number of days it took for a group social experiment known as “the button” to play out on the website Reddit.

Users were presented with a timer that would count down from 60 seconds until someone clicked the button — at which point the timer would reset to 60 seconds and begin the countdown again. That meant individual users had a choice: Either press the button and interrupt the countdown, or refrain from pressing the button and watch the timer click down to zero. Inevitably, though, someone somewhere would push the button and interrupt the countdown and the whole thing would start again.

In all, more than 1 million people pressed the button before the timer managed to reach zero. Reddit collected and shared data about how those users engaged with the experiment. And several members of the community created fascinating interactives and graphics like the one below, which illustrates the distribution of button pushes over time (created by vir_innominatus).

I described the experiment to NPR’s Weekend Edition team and tried to explain what it all means. You can listen to the segment above.


Mona Chalabi is data editor at the Guardian US, and a columnist at New York Magazine. She was previously a lead news writer for FiveThirtyEight.