Actually, Facebook Is Not About to Lose 800 Million Users

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Dado Ruvic / Reuters

A study suggesting Facebook will lose 80% of its peak user base by 2017 is whipping around the Internet this week, but there’s a problem: It’s just not going to happen.

The study (on which TIME previously reported) attempts to apply an infectious disease model to the phenomenon of social media network abandonment. The researchers—two Princeton students—looked at online search queries for “MySpace” over time and noted the significant drop-off as users left that platform, as seen here:

MySpace Google Search

Google Trends

The study then applied the same model to searches for “Facebook.” Facebook, the study finds, 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.” Here’s search interest in Facebook over time:

Facebook Search Interest

Google Trends

Here’s problem number one: If we allow for a moment the idea that search interest is a viable measure of a social network’s popularity, then yes, interest in Facebook is, admittedly, showing a very slight dip. But Facebook is absolutely killing it in direct comparison to MySpace. Check out search interest for the two side-by-side—MySpace in red, Facebook in blue:

Facebook Myspace Search

Google Trends

But here’s the thing, search interest has nothing to do with a modern social network’s future prospects. We search differently than we used to. More Internet users may have learned to type “Facebook.com” into their browser window instead of doing a Google search for “Facebook” and accessing the platform that way. About half of Facebook’s daily users are mobile-only, using apps to access the service instead of their desktop browsers—so those Search-”Facebook”-to-Access-Facebook searches are probably decreasing because of this, too. Finally, Facebook hasn’t made major news recently, so there hasn’t been a good reason to Google “Facebook”—but that’ll change next week immediately after its scheduled earnings call.

Alexander Howard, a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School, told TIME via Facebook messages that “applying models from the biological world to social networks and the broader online world isn’t an unreasonable approach to studying the dynamics of what’s happening there and why.” However, he brought up another reason this study is a miss: Facebook has the critical mass crucial to keeping a social network thriving.

“Where this parallel falls a bit short is in its predictive value for abandonment,” wrote Howard. “As long as a preponderance of friends, family, colleagues are on Facebook and using it—and are not somewhere else—and there is a social or even professional expectation to be on Facebook, there is significant friction against leaving it, particularly given network effects. If Facebook becomes an even more significant supplier for identity credentials and application logins, there will be even more gravity holding people here.”

Basically, you won’t leave Facebook because all of your friends and family are on Facebook now. There’s little reward for being the first of your friends to go somewhere else, as there’s no guarantee anybody will follow you there. MySpace never achieved this critical mass (your grandma never had a profile there—probably) so when Facebook started surging, there was no penalty for MySpace users to switch over. (Facebook’s original college-student-only rule also gave it a more “grown-up” feel than MySpace, helping to pull the first generation of MySpace users away just as they graduated high school.)

On top of that, Facebook is by now a much more complex ecosystem than MySpace ever was, with strong bonds to publishers, advertisers and other services across the Internet. Facebook’s code is all over the web, even on this very page, giving it heft that’ll help it endure and thrive on the constantly evolving Web. Facebook has also had a long pattern of year-over-year growth, now boasting more than 1.19 billon monthly active users per its last earnings report. 800 million of those users just aren’t about to get up and go in three years’ time.

A Facebook spokesperson told TIME the report is “utter nonsense.”

For what it’s worth, the study’s authors acknowledged their work hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed—a key phase of any scientific research. One author, Princeton graduate student Joshua Spechler, told TIME via e-mail that “The manuscript posted on the ArXiv is a preprint, which we have submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.” Spechler declined to comment further “until the completion of the peer review process.” It’s not clear how their work got traction across the web before this critical research phase. One guess: people were sharing it on Facebook.

38 comments
deadfrd
deadfrd

Type the letter f into your browser and see what the first suggestion is.....Facebook

cannibalofthetrees
cannibalofthetrees

I recently deleted my account. Hadn't used the damnable thing in, really, years. It is a playground for childish people that have the need to impress, or illicit pity from others. May the death of Facebook be an exceptionally painful one.

elarsson
elarsson

The decline in MySpace was completely different than Facebook's. MySpace's webpage design was what killed it. All of the user's content was stored on one page, and so when a visitor accessed it, it would take forever to load, and/or crash on the low power computers of the day. So in the first phase of decline, users would just give up on the loading, and in the second, they stopped bothering to go to myspace altogether. It looked horribly amateurish too.

TommySheppard
TommySheppard

Facebook has already started its decline.. I don't know if the research Princeton did is valid or not but I can say confidently that facebook will be pretty much an afterthought in a couple years. Its just how fads work.

MC
MC

TIME doesn't seem to notice that everyone old is on facebook because of younger people, and now that the younger people are gone, it's just old people posting chain letters and your employer looking for reasons to fire you. It's not going to last.

I can see the Facebook trademark being used for other things in the future, but the actual social media platform I expect to wane.

veggiedude
veggiedude

Kids grow up fast in five years. Many of them won't be kids any more. Maybe they want to come back for FB. Anyone thought of that?

pmheart6
pmheart6

i will leave facebook because its everywhere... it is big brother. 

the next generation of users wont want to go where there parents are. twitter tumbler pinterest, and for checkins foursquare. are the next place.... or probably something i'm not even thinking of.  2017 is forever in tech. critical mass thats mentioned can be gone in less than a year. We are talking 3 years

yellow2
yellow2

The problem with the FB numbers game is that you'll never really know what its value is. 


I still pick up a local newspaper from time to time but that doesn't make me a subscriber to that newspaper.


FB will be able to say, even in 5 years that it still has XXX amount of active users, but how active exactly? It'll be marked as something I have always thought is as….a site for voyeurism and thats all

ItsChristianJW
ItsChristianJW

Facebook is too complicated compared to Twitter or Tumblr or any other Social Network. People today are in for minimalism and ease. 

martinw392
martinw392

These internet geeks need to take a vacation and stop changing things, leave Facebook alone it works! don't screw with it! i would no sooner get tired of face book then i would get tired of my phone, its a great medium to stay in touch with old friends and family, i would feel sad if i lost the only contact that i had with them through face book, and a lot of them are older and it took long enough for them to actually trust facebook, i know they would give up on trying to stay in touch through the computer if they were tasked with learning a new platform now...

JoeGeorge
JoeGeorge

Rest assured, I will never waste my time to upload to the new "one" whatever it may be. If Facebook dies, I wont bother moving to the next one. I will most certainly never pay to be on the next "one" either.

GauravBidasaria
GauravBidasaria

Facebook is doing a lot of things that myspace and others never did. Be it their bug bounty program where they pay researchers to spot flaws in the system. They recently paid one Silva $33.5k !!


http://t.co/MN3MKcuQqT

BillMiller1
BillMiller1

It's not to say that facebook is going to disappear altogether, I doubt that, but it'll be mostly relegated to older people who want to keep their extended family up to date.  The youngsters will migrate to something else, just as they migrated to facebook from myspace or where ever.  Did anyone ever doubt it, that eventually the facebook bubble would burst??

BillMiller1
BillMiller1

Quote all the statistics you care to, all of the ceos you can get to talk to you, but the fact of the matter is that facebook is rapidly becoming passe.  Now maybe if you can get all of the current users to analyse the statistics and listen to all that the ceos have to say, they'll rally round facebook and never leave it.  Don't think it's going to happen.

HerersAngels
HerersAngels

"However, he brought up another reason this study is a miss: Facebook has the critical mass crucial to keeping a social network thriving."


What's that assumption based on doc?  Sounds dubious at best given Facebook is the only social network.


"MySpace never achieved this critical mass"  


According to some writer for time.  No facts to support that or even a description of what "critical mass" is.  Was this article written by a ten year old?

BaddDadd
BaddDadd

I agree with you all.  My teens and their friends have left it long ago...which means the future of FB is already becoming its past.  As for the rest of the household...we're burned out on it.  Too much whining, crying, and hating.  Too much drama, politics, and personal agendas.  Too much "look at me" and "look at that".  Too many poor attempts at comedy and too many people needing pats on the back.  Not enough search capability, not enough privacy control (G+ has it all over FB on this with circles), and not enough for me to care about the BS that business X, Y, or Z has on their wall.  And on and on and on....and yeh...one more...I don't care that you were late for work because you had a three wiper this morning in the bathroom.


All in all, we only use it for the local selling walls (beats Craigslist for local access and security...just needs to be searchable) and just in case someone feels the need to announce an event by only posting it to FB (which is an indication that its one I don't want to go to).  And, on occasion, it does make for some good entertainment when people are trying to make a point or an a$$ out of themselves.  So, we keep our account but put no more than 15-30 minutes a week in.  Not much keeping us around.  


3-5 years...yep!  

PatriciaGibson
PatriciaGibson

Why not eave Facebook they use you in ads without your permission. They constantly ask for additional information about where you live and your phone number. If you look at one of their ads they go so far a to email you regarding a third party. They have taken stalking to a whole new level.

JohnMc
JohnMc

They're missin the biggest flaw/ The deline is not due to users, but related to the climb as people searched for information on the IPO. The subsequent drop is largely the result of the end of that extraordinary event. Eliminate that blip and it is essentially stable, and the argeument comparing it to MySpace falls apart.

eldrickwo10
eldrickwo10

if you don' t count the add pages and other pages for company's they are far from a billion 

billpeck
billpeck

It is going to happen; three years is a long time for this  miracle o happen.

bozodouche
bozodouche

Maybe people will grow up and just dump "social media" altogether, recognizing it for the childish nonsense that it is.

brightcluster
brightcluster

Most of my friends are leaving facebook. It's a fact facebook is using our private data so we must leave.  Article is false.

Kallisti
Kallisti

@deadfrd Google tailors its searches to you. Wipe your data and try again, it's not the first suggestion.

pmheart6
pmheart6

I've already deleted the app from my phone. I'll go via an open web platform called html.

pmheart6
pmheart6

They will try to close it to a closed system to keep people, and it will force more people away. Its like the mainframe manufacturers. Once people could keep there data, secure there data, and transfer there data, people went with PC's they are willing to go to the cloud as long as it maintains those features. People might accept some lack of control for a thing or two, but as the end all, NO way!

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

@martinw392 Harvard Law has been producing alleged "studies" for decades -- think OweBama (D) and American Indian Princess FAUX-a-hontus (D).

yellow2
yellow2

@martinw392 


Its a publicly traded company now. Leaving it alone is the last thing that will happen. Shareholders demand profits and that equals change. Lots of it

JoeyJanikowski
JoeyJanikowski

@HerersAngels Are you a 10 year old? Do you need me to explain to you what a homonym is? I don't know why you're putting critical mass in quotations like they are talking about nuclear physics.


Critical mass is a sociodynamic concept... which explains this perfectly. Critical mass is when something (such as a social media site) has a high rate of adoption and becomes self sustaining. MySpace never had a good rate of adoption nor was it stabilized as much as Facebook. This led to people becoming more and more inactive. Facebook still continues to grow every day. Almost every smart phone on the planet has Facebook embedded into it. Most inactive accounts on Facebook are fake and were used by botters at one point. The statistics for Facebook will never be accurate.


I know SEO very well and you just can't base the activity of a website by search engine trends or bad demographic algorithms. Organic traffic means nothing. Most Facebook traffic is direct which means it doesn't get searched. . 

JohnMills1
JohnMills1

@HerersAngels It was written by an amateur shill with a vested interest in keeping FB relevant.

VictorieBelle
VictorieBelle

Organic traffic means everything, seeing that it is organic human beings that browse the website.


Simply put, I would not be surprised if web searches tell a story of some sort. If anything, it means people are getting to the point where they will no longer LOOK for facebook.


The population that uses it will continue using it, but new users will stop finding it.


This is the beginning of the end as Facebook enters a generational divide. Young people will look at facebook as "The old people place" and not want to go there.