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The World's Top Think Tank Has Weighed in on Reddit's Button

It's "interesting as an unintended social experiment," Brookings says.

by Ben Richmond
Apr 28 2015, 9:00am

​Screengrab: Reddit

​Brookings, named the "top think tank in the world," has finally weighed in on Reddit's mysterious "The Button."

In a post on Brookings "Tech Tank," the institute's vice president and director of Governance Studies Darrell M. West and research analyst Joshua Bleiberg train their critical eyes on The Button, Reddit's April Fool's Day prank of a 60-second-countdown clock that resets each time someone presses it. From their perspective, the Button is "interesting as an unintended social experiment."

"The continued clicking of the button has some important implications for how Internet users could participate in crowd-sourced governance," they wrote.

Their perspective is also pretty funny, due to the incongruity between The Button's utter banality, and the fervor with which it is watched, discussed, and, of course, clicked.

They seem most struck by how the Button devotees managed to rally around something so silly.

"People on the Internet are also willing and able to engage in boring tasks for rewards that have little value," the Brookings Button blog stated, an observation already made by anyone who has ever played or watched someone play Candy Crush, and which the on-going success of Reddit writ large confirms.

But it's not like Brookings is the only one watching The Button watchers. It has given birth to a whole cottage industry of stat collection, both on Reddit amongst /r/thebutton's 167,863 readers and elsewhere. A "sysadmin for a large public university in Texas who likes to work on random programming projects for fun" built a site that collects and graphs Button data, and even estimates when The Button could reach zero (Sunday Sunday Sunday!). Jared Furlow, a 15-year-old web developer, made a site devoted to tracking The Button's lowest momentswe're down to 11!

If The Button studies seems out of character for an Embassy Row public policy organization, recall that you live in a world whereStephen Hawking is postulating alternative universes where Zayn Malik is still in One Direction. Distinctions between "wacky" and "worth critical examination" seem to have just a minute of relevance left—and the clock is ever ticking down.

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