Reseachers say Facebook membership will drop 80 percent by 2017. Seriously?

Reseachers say Facebook membership will drop 80 percent by 2017. Seriously?

Summary: Is Facebook really just a virulent social virus? So claim two Princeton University graduate students.


No, this not an Onion story. A pair of Princeton University graduate students claim that by 2017 Facebook will have lost 80 percent of its active membership, thus killing it off for all practical purposes.

Don't start shorting your Facebook stock quite yet. 

Is Facebook really just a virulent social virus!? So claim two researchers. Auntie Flo might disagree.

How can they make such a claim? The two explain, "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."

In English, they're treating the growth -- and decline -- of social networks as if they were diseases.

They continued:

"We modify the traditional [Susceptible-Infected-Recovered] SIR model of disease spread by incorporating infectious recovery dynamics such that contact between a recovered and infected member of the population is required for recovery. The proposed infectious recovery SIR model (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. Extrapolating the best fit model into the future predicts a rapid decline in Facebook activity in the next few years."

My first reaction to this was "But how will grandma see the latest finger-painting masterpieces by little Calvin and Susie!?" Most of my ZDNet comrades also greeted this prediction with gales of hysterical laughter.

Then I thought about it some more. The SIR model is well-regarded because it does an excellent job of predicting how epidemics work in the real world and the model does fit the rise and fall of MySpace quite well.

Still, Facebook, with a billion plus monthly users, is bigger than any other social network. Is MySpace's failed model really a good reference model for Facebook?

On the other hand, at one time, AOL, Digg, and Alta Vista all looked like untouchable Internet giants.

That said, it should also be kept in mind that social phenomena are always hard to predict. If they were easy to predict, every advertising campaign would be a rip-roaring success. They're not.

In addition, a better model for Facebook adoption might be that of radio, TV or the Internet itself rather than MySpace. After all, both Google, with Google+, and Facebook are trying to be more than just a social network. They want to become the hub of all your Internet life.

I use Facebook myself, although I prefer Google+. I use it because that's where my high-school friends and relatives hang out. They can't tell the difference between the Web and the Internet.. and could care less. For them, Facebook is just easy and works. Indeed, for many of them Facebook has become their portal to the Internet... not that there's anything wrong with that.

The bottom line is that now that grandma and grandpa are on Facebook, I don't see them moving to another social network anytime soon. Facebook certainly isn't "cool" anymore, but stone-cold dead in three years? Nah, I don't think so. So long as there are old high-school buddies and aunt Flo who wants to share photos of her cat Mr. Nibbles, Facebook will do just fine.

Related Stories:

Topics: Networking, Social Enterprise

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • I have reduced my usage

    I used to be obsessed with it, logging in several times a day just to see whats new, but I don't know if its information overload or just kind of sick of the same people that has triggered a desire to use it less.
    • Facebook usage getting down amongst my entourage. The novelty factor is not there anymore and ounce you got news from those lost contacts, your interest goes down. However, I don't see such a membership drop soon. First, I see no reason to get rid of a FaceBook account. You might want to reduce you activities there, delete photos or videos or even older posts but deleting your account is useless. It would be a social media suicide. Second, the young ones, the ones between 15 and 25 year old do not use Facebook as much as their parents anymore. In fact they prefer Vine, Snapchat and other social media. The reason is simple for that: their parents are not there checking what they are doing on line. Facebook stopped being interesting for young ones the day that their parents became “Friends”. However the young ones still use Facebook as a messaging center. It is easier for me to contact some of my student on Facebook then by email. Third, the older ones, the ones that joined Facebook in the last 2 years are not going anywhere soon. They were late in and they’ll be late to recognise that Facebook is not “In” anymore.
      Facebook will be around for a while.
      • Once a virus, always a virus...

        Facebook started like a disease. It was a fanciful attempt by a awkward nerdy future-billionaire to make a "book" of girls' faces. Quite sick, if you ask me.

        Others helped him, and they changed it to let ivy-leaguers connect (to make their own "in" network). Then, anyone was able to join.

        Today, little Joey sitting in Kalamazoo dreams of friend-ing Paris Hilton. That's the height of facebook.

        But little Joey's son doesn't really care. Demographics show young internet users don't see much in facebook, especially if adults or parents are on there.

        Same with Joey Sr. Senior citizens also don't use facebook much, unless they joined to see pictures of their family. And even then, it's a convenient photo album for them.

        The user base isn't growing as fast as it once was, and this research shows it might be declining.

        One thing's true - most people who wanted to join have already joined. That leaves growth coming from youngsters (growing kids). But they're just not into the facebook.

        In my assessment, FB is on the downhill slide. Not quite by 2017, but by 10 years it will be ignored by most.
        Uplift Humanity
  • Why the surprise?

    It's already evident that many young people are giving up on Facebook. Who wants to post juicy news on Facebook or compromising photos if you've had to 'friend' your mother?

    Besides, there are an increasing number of competing social media sites that will draw Facebook users away from that site, or will pre-empt Facebook and snare a user who never feels the need to join.

    I have no idea when, but there will almost inevitable moment when there are some many sites that users have joined that they start to weed out the ones they can no longer invest any time to follow. Unless Facebook comes up with some unique feature that everyone MUST have, but no other site can mimic, they are doomed to feel the 'cut'.

    Whether Facebook suffers a decline of the same magnitude as MySpace remains to be seen, but a decline is coming. Investors beware!
  • I hope they are right

    Or they are wrong and it goes down 100%. It would be welcome to wipe another disease from the earth.
    • Demographics doesn't support the death spiral of Facebook

      Why? Because baby boomer generation is using Facebook more than ever. They are not so easily moving from it. But what's sure? Youngsters don't like it. "Facebook is boring" is the slogan of younger generation. But younger generation is small (in most of European countries hardly more than half of baby boomer generation).

      Besides Facebook is still growing were the future is: devoloping/poor countries. America and Europe are no more the strong points of any IT ecosystem. The future of global IT is in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Why? Because they have the demographics and we have not.
      • The baby boomer generation

        Meaning old folks who are going to be dying soon anyway.

        Developing countries love it because of its novelty, as did the developed countries. As soon as the novelty wears off, bye bye user base.
        Jacob VanWagoner
        • The baby boomer generation

          has yet to hit their 70s, I wouldn't say dying "soon" and definitely not in 3 years.

          novelty was never a draw for people of this age, it was the simple and instant means connection that was the fascinating part. prior to that, it was writing letters, sending emails, or phone calls. do social networks not enable older people to stay in closer contact with their relatives? of course, and that's something of tremendous value to a person at that age. that being said, I think the older generation will keep their facebooks in order to keep in touch and the younger generation will keep their facebooks in order to keep their elders up-to-date (almost in an obligatory way).
          Jason Chapman
      • As a baby boomer...

        I'm pretty much done with it (no, not life lol).

        And annoyed to death by their desperate bi-daily emails reminding me I have 16 invites, 43 messages, and 6 notifications...They serve as a deterrent rather than the intended "OMG, I gotta login NOW!

  • But how will grandma see the latest finger-painting?

    Great-grandma just turned 70. She uses Google+ photos now to see her grandson growing up from 550 miles away. Yeah, we both still have Facebook accounts. I posted to mine 3 times last year. And shared over 400 photos and videos with my family through Google+.
    • And now G+ is turning into an obnoxious bulling pain in the ass too.

      And now G+ is turning into an obnoxious bulling pain in the ass too. Using the sort of uncontrolable updates which drove me from ghastly f******k, updates which ZDNet has just reported has caused deaths. Social media is an oxymoron, it is becoming Anti Social media so beware!
      dumb blonde
      • if you are referring to Violet Blue's recent article

        about Dr V's suicide, you should read it again. Google+ had no involvement in that. The article shifts gears to reports of users being outed by information from their Google+ accounts, but no deaths.
  • just hoping...

    ... that our festering and odious ex citizen R Murdoch does a Myspace and buys the portal a few months before it burns... the old golem deserves every disaster that comes his way... and no need analysing Faux News by these guys, it has been a terminal disease since day one...
    • Something's got a hold of your mind, and you need to get it back...

      You sound hateful and hurt by the success of Mr Murdoch. MySpace might have been a bad deal for the media mogul, but, most of everything else he's touched has turned to gold. In fact, FOX news, which you deride, is the most watched cable news network, to the tune of getting an audience that is larger than MSNBC and CNN and HLN combined, and in fact, there are more people who watch FOX news than the regular nightly network news. That means that, in a 24 hr period, FOX gets more unique visitors than any of the broadcast network news shows. FOX is raking in the dough, while the broadcast networks still struggle to make any money with their broadcast news.

      So, whatever "disaster" you see, is only in your imagination; not every venture undertaken by a company or an investor, needs to be a complete success.

      I can see why you are so hurt by FOX and/or Murdoch. Success can make others very hateful.
      And you are also hurt by the mere fact that, FOX doesn't need to lie to get huge audiences, while MSNBC and CNN are struggling to stay relevant or alive.
      • re: Something's got a hold of your mind

        > there are more people who watch FOX news than the regular nightly network news.

        Please don't come here and lie. You never get away with it and you embarrass yourself. Or maybe not.

        Nightly news viewers for the week of January 13, 2014:
        NBC: 9,404,000
        ABC: 8,468,000
        CBS: 7,485,000

        "In the evening, an average of 21.6 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast evening news programs each night on ABC, CBS or NBC." - Pew Research Center in 2010

        "FNC averaged 1,752,000 primetime viewers and 1,117,000 total day viewers."

        You should check you facts, son.

        > in a 24 hr period, FOX gets more unique visitors than any of the broadcast network news shows.

        I'm not even gonna refute that. It refutes itself. Fox News get's more viewers in 24 hours than the networks get in .5 hours? Even if it's true, so what?
        none none
      • If Fox doesn't need to lie to get big audiences...

        why do they? Just for fun?
      • Your truth is stranger than any fiction.

        "FOX doesn't need to lie to get huge audiences"

        Yes, and I'm George Washington.
  • Might be going that way

    As you note all of the previous social medias that had their time in the sun FB doesn't have anything to offer that those did. I think that much as you decided to go google+ people will find their own groups etc.. FB is great at the amount of peripheral people I have found but what else are they offering?
  • I fail to see how that makes sense . . .

    "In English, they're treating the growth -- and decline -- of social networks as if they were diseases."

    I fail to see how that makes sense . . . treating them as diseases? On what basis?

    While using such a model would makes sense if Facebook *were* a disease - Facebook isn't a disease.

    Yeah, sure: The SIR is a respectable model. But it models a certain thing with certain characteristics. Characteristics that may not be applicable to a social network.

    So I think it is good to ask "is this model really relevant to Facebook?"

    I don't think social networks are going away any time soon - too many people find them useful. However, I do seem them as competitive, with Google+ competing with Facebook and such. So perhaps a model driven by competition would be more applicable to Facebook.
    • Agreed. The biggest difference between Facebook users, and a virus

      is that Facebook users think, weigh, and decided they see a use for Facebook. A virus doesn't think, doesn't weigh, and then decide it wants to be were it is, it just is.

      Also, many viruses can't adapt, and die off as the body's immune system kills it off, so there is an "ending" to their model.

      Facebook isn't trying to kill off it's users, so the ending must be different.