A computer science paper from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton University, has predicted a drastic decline for Facebook over the next few years, based on mathematical models of the spread of epidemics and the decline of MySpace.
The report concludes that Facebook will lose 20% of its maximum user base by December 2014, and 80% by 2015. The authors claim that Facebook’s growth and the beginnings of its decline fit their mathematical models, so the prediction is fair. However, there are reasons to see Facebook as different to MySpace, and to believe it may have a different future.
While MySpace was the early king of social media, its downfall was brought about by the growth of Facebook, not just natural decline. Facebook is unprecedented in size, and while services like Snapchat are popular with teens, nothing has emerged yet which will make users leave in droves. Facebook has weathered lots of scandals and controversies, arguably because people have nowhere else they want to go. Google+ was arguably a better service when it launched, but it hasn’t precipitated a mass exodus from Facebook, as Facebook did from MySpace.
Discussing the paper on Reddit, many users pointed out that you can’t always compare one service’s history to another, saying ‘Reddit will lose 80% of his users within a few years, according to a new mathematical model based on Digg data,’ and ‘Google will lose 80% of its users within a few years, according to a new mathematical model based on Yahoo! data.’
The researchers analyzed the adoption and abandonment of social networks, and discovered they could be accurately described by applying models for the growth and contraction of medical epidemics. These models have previously been successfully applied to the spread of ideas throughout a population, so using them is not without precedent.