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shachar orren

Guest Post: The Red Dot that Broke the Internet

Shachar Orren is the Vice President of Content at Playbuzz. In this guest post for the NewsWhip blog, she explains how Playbuzz’s latest content format went viral across the web, within days. 

Those worried about hackers or cyber security can take comfort in knowing that the only thing necessary to break the internet is a simple red dot, published on the Playbuzz content platform.

Created just over a week ago, the Red Dot simply asked readers to look closely at the red circle and identify whether they see anything hidden within, acting as a catalyst to internet chatter that engaged millions across the globe.

In fact, the interactive item was picked up by multiple top-tier news outlets. TIME reported, “A new question is dividing the Internet and it has nothing to do with a dress. A sight test that asks participants if they can see anything inside a picture of a red dot has gone viral.” ABC observed, “It’s the latest debate making the Internet go bonkers since a dog wore pants.” And MTV promised, “No, we’re not punking you. There really is an image hidden inside this circle.”

So why did the Red Dot spur this kind of widespread adoration from both individuals and publishers? As Vice President of Content at Playbuzz, I’ve seen this happen before. For readers, the Red Dot test is simple, yet impactful, a little maddening, and cerebrally ticklish. It also offers a “reveal” at the end. And for publishers, the Red Dot presents an opportunity to tap into a momentary phenomenon that is unencumbered by the weight or controversy of current events, politics, or celebrity.

For both readers and publishers, the Red Dot combines many different, and fundamentally human, reactions – all around one instinctively shareable item.

At first glance, of course, the exam seems simple. It’s just a dot, after all. Today teased, “Recent internet brainteasers have been all about finding things like Easter eggs or owls in a group of similar-looking images, this one is all about finding one hiding in plain sight.”  But closer examination of the Red Dot yields any number of possible visuals. Some people say they can see the outline of North America.

Some are pleased that they can see a horse. Some are extra-pleased because they can see a horse and saddle standing in a patch of grass. And yes, many are frustrated because they can’t see anything at all. One or two snarky responders have even volunteered that they can see the Japanese flag.

TechTimes reported, “I first saw a cow while looking at the optical illusion as a thumbnail. Once I looked at the image at its full size, it’s clearly a horse. As I continued to stare at this horse inside the red circle, it became pretty clear that it does have a saddle on its back.”

The Telegraph put it succinctly: “The puzzle is the latest in a deluge of optical illusions to have flooded the internet in recent weeks and has reportedly left many divided about what they can see. Is it just a red dot? Is there actually an animal? Or are we just all being trolled?”

These frenzied responses point to the deceptive simplicity of visual content like the Red Dot, which both challenges users and also offers the promise of an element of personal insight. It starts with the challenge: “Calm your mind and stare at this red circle. See anything?” which speaks to fundamental human curiosity. Would anyone really not stare for at least a moment or two? And then, after the viewer has seen a horse, or a cow, or nothing at all, one starts to wonder “What does this say about me?

Does this reflect upon me?” The immediate reaction is, of course with the next response being to share the Red Dot with friends and family on social media. Because the Red Dot is both a challenge and a reveal, it speaks to ingrained human traits of curiosity, love of a challenge, a desire for personal insight and a wish to share something that will please others.

And for media publishers, a sensation like the Red Dot presents the opportunity to divulge readers where their current attention is directed. The Red Dot exists in a cultural vacuum, which allows it to be somewhat apolitical, and to put it simply, FUN! Not to mention, widespread media coverage amplifies the challenge aspect of the puzzle.

What might once have been just shared by a friend or family member has now become news. In fact, UK newspaper The Sun used the Red Dot challenge to highlight interesting facts about vision health in the UK, reporting that, “around 61 percent of the UK population admitted to wearing glasses, contact lenses or other reading or visual aids.”

When the frenzy subsided, the item had generated a total of 3,684,220 views and was embedded by 269 publishers worldwide. These numbers assert that readers crave shareability, enjoyment, a challenge and personal insights – something that can be provided all from one puzzle if done well. For all those involved – readers and publishers – the Red Dot comes to represent a focal point of global conversation regarding what makes us think.

That said, the items that garner the most engagement are those that tap into fundamental human emotions – curiosity, challenge, insight – and for publishers, the dialog becomes less about the hectic, ephemeral nature of the news cycle, and more about the simple things that produce joy and amusement and introspection – all from a red dot.

And yes, I do see a horse, but no saddle. What do you see?

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