PhotoFacebook is like a disease. So says a research paper that exploded onto the scene yesterday. Written by two Princeton PhD students, the paper basically says that social media sites follow the same outbreak, growth and decline patterns as epidemics.

Most of them have a life cycle that extends for only about three years after they reach their peak, which would mean that Facebook is on its way out and will be mostly a memory in a year or two.

Sound outrageous? Perhaps, but Joshua Spechler and John Cannarella point to MySpace as a prime example, It peaked in 2008 and then rapidly dwindled to nearly nothing by 2011.

Rapid decline

Using Google search data as their basis, the reserchers say that Facebook reached its peak in 2012 and has already started to decline.

"Extrapolating the best fit 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," they said, adding that the site has "already reached the peak of its popularity and has entered a decline phase."

A Facebook spokesman said the paper was "nonsense" but others have noted that younger teens have been abandoning Facebook in droves recently, with older users replacing them. While not necessarily a bad thing, it's nevertheless a trend that raises questions about Facebook's future.

Overall, Facebook's numbers are up, the company notes, with nearly 1.2 billion users in a given month. Advertising revenue is also up.

The students aren't saying anything publicly while they wait for their paper to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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