Will Facebook really lose 80% of its users by 2015-2017?

By now we have all heard about the (non peer-reviewed) study by Princeton faculty that Facebook would lose 80% of its users between 2015 and 2017 (http://arxiv.org/pdf/1401.4208v1.pdf), and Facebook’s hilarious rebuttal that Princeton will run out of students by 2021 (http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/24/facebook-issues-princeton-rebuttal/).

It is always hard to predict human behavior (especially in the future J) and any dominant (social media) platform may well be history in a few years. However, I find no credible evidence for Facebook’s demise in the Princeton study because of two major flaws:

(1) It is far-fetched to compare a social media platform to a disease from which you naturally recover. In marketing, (first) adoption of a new product (such as microwaves) has been modeled as a disease, but that does not mean that microwave sales fall to zero once everyone has been infected. Instead, it is the competition with (better) alternatives that mostly drives the faith of products and social media platforms. MySpace was a specialist focused on music and got driven out by the more generalist Facebook. What will replace Facebook in your opinion?

(2) the study uses Google Trends data, interpreting a decline in search as a decline in interest. That may be accurate for the decline in gaining new souls, but tells us nothing about the billion existing users. Instead, it is far more important that many teens are abandoning Facebook, and that many ‘older’ people are intensifying Facebook use. This change in the composition of Facebook’s active audience is far more interesting to model and use in predictions than any general decline in new interest.

What do you think about the study and its rebuttal?

Greeting from a cold but wonderful Vienna,

Prof. Koen Pauwels

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