Researchers Predict Demise of Facebook with 80-Percent User Exodus by 2017, Doubt It

A lot can change in three years. In 2011, Google launched its own social network, Ultrabooks became a thing, Steve Ballmer was the head of Microsoft for the foreseeable future, and it looked like we'd all own a glasses-free 3D TV someday soon. That's really just a sampling of how the landscape has changed in three short years, but it begs the question, what major events are in store for 2017? Try the death of Facebook.

A couple of graduate students at Princeton University published a paper claiming Facebook will lose around 80 percent of its active membership by 2017, which would virtually destroy the service. They've come to that conclusion based on treating Facebook like a disease.

"We use epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of online social networks (OSNs), where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery," the students explain.

Mark Zuckerberg
Image Source: Flickr (Robert Scoble)

They say it's a validated model because of MySpace's rise and fall in prominence. The researchers also argue the infectious recovery SIR model (irSIR), which has been accurate in predicting how epidemics work in the real world. Since it also fits so nicely with MySpace's demise, they've applied it Facebook to come to the conclusion that a mass exodus is not only inevitable, but is just three years away from happening.

"The proposed irSIR model is validated using publicly available Google search query data for 'MySpace' as a case study of an OSN that has exhibited both adoption and abandonment phases. The irSIR model is then applied to search query data for 'Facebook,' which is just beginning to show the onset of an abandonment phase," the students wrote in their paper. "Extrapolating the best fit model into the future predicts a rapid decline in Facebook activity in the next few years."

What's different about Facebook is that it's quite a bit bigger than MySpace ever was. Facebook is also a publicly traded company, which doesn't make it immune to demise by any stretch, but it does mean there's a vested interest by many people to ensure it continues to thrive.