Two researchers at Princeton University touched off a negative media blitz for Facebook by releasing a study comparing Facebook to a "disease" and predicting that it could lose 80 percent of its users between 2015 and 2017 as people "recover" and abandon the network en masse.
"In this paper we use epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of [online social networks,] where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery," the authors, John Cannarella and Joshua A. Spechler, write in their paper.
By "epidemiological," the authors refer to models based on epidemics, in which disease outbreaks spread quickly, peak and then decline.
The researchers used search query data for Facebook, which showed a decline in the number of searches relating to the network after 2012. They concluded that Facebook "is just beginning to show the onset of an abandonment phase." The researchers, both engineers, predicted a "rapid decline in Facebook activity in the next few years."
The paper is titled, "Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics." It seems kind of silly to extrapolate future Facebook activity based on the number of online queries about it, but on the other hand, its conclusions don't seem far fetched.
Cannarella and Spechler compare Facebook to MySpace, which rocketed to popularity and almost just as quickly fell into decline, eclipsed by Facebook.
I also see Facebook's trajectory as similar to that of AOL, which was King of the Internet for years and a whopping business success before its users finally figured out they didn't need AOL and moved on to other Web services. AOL is still there, but has been relegated to a minor role in the world of Internet business.
It's easy to imagine that happening to the king of social networking, even if you don't think of its addictive features as anything like a "disease."