If you view Facebook as a plague on social dynamics, you might not be far wrong. Researchers from Princeton University claim that the social network's popularity has spread like an infectious disease—but as we slowly become immune to its charms, it will die out.
By comparing the uptake of Facebook to growth curves of epidemics, the scientists claim that—just like the bubonic plague—Facebook will gradually begin to fade away. They go further than that, too, claiming that Facebook will lose 80 per cent of its peak user base within the next three years. The researchers write in a paper currently published on the arXiv servers:
"Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models... 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."
John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, both from Princeton, modelled social networks using equations commonly used to map the spread and recovery of epidemics. They then tested them on data gathered from MySpace to check they accurately modelled boom and crash, and then applied them to Facebook. In turn, they generated the prediction that the site's user count will drop by 80 per cent before 2017.
Of course, it's not clear that equations used to model epidemics will accurately predict Facebook's decline—there are so many factors in the possible success or failure of the site that such equations are always bound to simplify the problem. But with Facebook's chief financial officer David Ebersman admitting recently that the site "did see a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens" in the last three months, you never know. [arXiv via Guardian]
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