Facebook is a part of everyday life for an estimated 1.2 billion people worldwide, but the world’s most popular social network could soon be facing a mass switch-off according to a new study. Researchers at Princeton University believe that Facebook could shed 900 million users and collapse by 2017, if not sooner.
The demise of Facebook is outlined in a paper entitled “Epidemiological modelling of online social network dynamics”. In the study, researchers looked at existing models for the spread of diseases and applied those models to the growth of social networks. The models were then tested against previously popular social networks such as MySpace, which once dominated the realm of social before crashing spectacularly.
The results are not good news for Mark Zuckerberg and co. As the world enters the “recovery phase” of the Facebook “disease”, usage looks set to tail off dramatically, with its user base set to collapse by 2016 at the earliest and 2020 at the latest.
The Princeton study is purely speculative and has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it’s yet more bad news for a company that once seemed invincible. Repeated privacy concerns, a disappointing IPO and increased competition from other social networks have seen the world’s #2 website come under considerable pressure. That said, most analysts would question the chances that Facebook could collapse by 2017, given that such a drop would involve 900 million people logging out over the next three years.
Facebook and its investors have been disturbed recently to see a significant drop in usage amongst teenage users. Some studies have suggested that this demographic may have dropped by as much as 25 percent in the past two years, as younger users switch to Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook themselves acknowledge that they have a serious image problem amongst this age group, as younger users find themselves not wanting to share a social network with their parents, or even their grandparents.
If Facebook does crash and burn, they would not be the first social network to do so. In 2002, Friendster became the first site of its kind to attract over a million users and introduced the world to the concept of a social network. Google offered to buy the site for $30 million in 2003, which they refused, and shortly afterwards Friendster found themselves in terminal decline. It is now a gaming website with a strong user base in Asia.
MySpace, which was the main focus of the Princeton study, seemed utterly unbeatable when it was in its prime. In 2005 it was subject to a $580 million buyout by News International, and in 2006 it was the world’s most popular website, surpassing even Google. MySpace seemed to be in an unassailable lead and none of their competitors could match the vast capital provided by Rupert Murdoch, who intended to make the site central to his web strategy for Fox Entertainment. Yet by 2008, MySpace was all but dead. In 2011, it was sold again for an undisclosed sum, believed to be under $40 million.
The reasons for the death of MySpace are still subject to debate, but it is widely acknowledged that the main demographic to jump ship were 18-24 year olds. They left to join Facebook, helping to make it the number one social network, but now that same demographic are beginning to desert the site. Whether this means that Facebook could collapse by 2017 remains to be seen, but investors in the company will certainly be hoping that Mark Zuckerberg has a few more tricks up his sleeve.
By Bernard O’Leary