A fascinating paper from Princeton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering claims that Facebook may disappear and is likely to lose 80% of its users by 2017.
Using a mathematical model based on the spread of disease developed from a presentation called, “The Social Network Disease: Epidemiology and The Demise of Facebook”, authors John Cannarella and Joshua A. Spechler suggest that if MySpace is an example of what happens to social networks, Facebook is already on the decline.
“In this paper we have applied a modified epidemiological model to describe the adoption and abandonment dynamics of user activity of online social networks. Using publicly available Google data for search query Myspace as a case study, we showed that the traditional SIR model for modeling disease dynamics provides a poor description of the data. A 75% decrease in SSE is achieved by modifying the traditional SIR model to incorporate infectious recovery dynamics, which is a better description of OSN dynamics. Having validated the irSIR model of OSN dynamics on Google data for search query Myspace, we then applied the model to the Google data for search query Facebook. Extrapolating the best ï¬t model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”
Pretty fascinating stuff, but I’m not quite sure we can use a disease model to predict a social network’s popularity, particularly when Facebook’s influence continues to grow. While it’s true that younger people are leaving Facebook in droves and the fastest growing segment of Facebook users are people over age 65, Facebook is still growing. Slower than in the past but with 1.19 billion users, it’s far surpassed MySpace, which only had 100 million users at its peak.
In fact, Facebook’s referral traffic grew by nearly 50% in the last quarter of 2013, according to a new report by Shareaholic.
“Facebook’s referral traffic share grew from 10.37 percent to 15.44 percent, Pinterest was up from 3.68 percent to 4.79 percent, while Twitter dipped from 1.17 percent to 1.12 percent. In other words, Facebook and Pinterest showed phenomenal growth given their positions, while Twitter remained essentially flat.”
Interestingly, Mr. Protalinski notes that while social sites StumbleUpon and Google+ jumped (while shares from sites such as Reddit, YouTube, and LinkedIn declined), all 5 of those social networks make up only 1% of all sharing traffic meaning Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are the big players here and are likely to stay that way for quite a while.
Facebook may disappear eventually, but not anytime soon particularly when 17% of the world’s population use the service. And while young people aren’t using Facebook right now because they don’t want to share much where their parents can see, it would not surprise me to see them return to Facebook as they mature (I have zero evidence to back up that claim; it’s based entirely on my discussions with the handful of teenagers I currently know). So no worries, it’s not time to write the obituary for Facebook, yet.