Facebook is an 'infectious disease' and will lose 80% of users by 2017, according to researchers

Research says Facebook users will quit the site once they have 'recovered'

A new study of Facebook has predicted that the social network’s rapid growth will prove unsustainable and that the site will lose 80 per cent of its users between 2015 and 2017.

A group of Princeton researchers has compared Facebook to a highly infectious disease, claiming that after it reaches a certain critical mass of ‘infected’ users, these individuals will ‘recover’ and quit the site.

Read More: Facebook hits back: Uses the same "robust methodology" to prove that Princeton won't exist by 2021

The paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, uses “epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of online social networks, where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery.”

At first glance, this application of disease dynamics to social networks sounds like a bad fit. For a start, most highly infectious diseases contribute to their own decline by killing their hosts – Facebook isn’t quite so virulent.

However, the researchers claim that these sorts of disease models have been shown to work in the past, writing in their paper that "ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models".

Facebook has been losing interest amongst teenagers, as apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp grow.

"Ideas are spread through communicative contact between different people who share ideas with each other. Idea manifesters ultimately lose interest with the idea and no longer manifest the idea, which can be thought of as the gain of 'immunity' to the idea."

The researchers use the rapid rise and fall of MySpace as the archetype, comparing publicly available data from Google with the traditional SIR model of infectious disease. ‘SIR’ stands for Susceptible, Infectious and Recovered - the three groups that individuals are placed in with regards to a public disease.

When the classic bell curve of the SIR model is compared to MySpace’s user numbers (below) the correlation does look quite convincing, but the researchers still make several assumptions that suggest Mark Zuckerberg and co can still sleep easy.

Two graphs showing how the SIR model fits the rise and decline of MySpace. The graph on the right shows a modified SIR model.

Although it’s certainly true that various social networks such as Instagram and Twitter are regarded by teens as being ‘cooler’ than Facebook, this lack of wow factor with younger demographics will probably be exactly what sustains Facebook.

The social network has integrated itself into the fabric of the web in a way that MySpace never managed - not just in terms of accessibility with older users (who, incidentally, aren’t likely to jump ship to Snapchat)  but also with how the social layer of the internet has become unavoidable.

For example, although the researchers cite a declining number of searches for Facebook as evidence that it has reached ‘peak popularity’, the ubiquity of  ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons (as well as the ability to embed posts) mean that searches are hardly the top way to get to the site.

At its peak MySpace had around 100 million users whilst Facebook currently has more than 1.2 billion. Add to this the site's mobile apps (more of which are expected this year) and it seems that users don't even have the option to ‘recover’ from the site - for the moment, Facebook is part of the web’s wider ecosystem now, for better or for worse.

Read more:
Sheryl Sandberg is a new billionaire as Facebook shares hit new high
Facebook to enter the online newspaper market with Flipboard competitor named 'Paper'
Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph - High Wycombe

    £15 per hour: Ashdown Group: IT Analyst / Helpdesk - 2 Month Contract - £15ph ...

    Recruitment Genius: Automation Test Analyst

    £35000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This group is the world's secon...

    Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst - Application Support - Central London

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Service Desk Analyst (App...

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

    £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engine...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum