Will Facebook Really Lose 80% of Its Users Within 3 Years?

Learn how Princeton researchers predicted Facebook will disappear by 2017, and how Facebook's adult user base will allow the social network to stay around for many more years.

Jan 27, 2014 at 11:30AM

A recent study by two researchers at Princeton University has gotten a lot of attention recently, as it predicted that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) will likely go the way of MySpace and lose 80% of its users within the next three years.

The study uses a controversial method to arrive at its conclusion. John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler from the university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department compare Facebook's user-growth curve with those of epidemics. Just like the bubonic plague in the 14th century, the researchers argue, Facebook will eventually end up dying. Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) could also be in danger, as "ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models," the authors claim.

Not all research is created equal
It's no secret that Facebook has been losing teen users recently. The company itself admitted this trend last year, which was later confirmed by digital consultancy iStrategy Lab, which claimed that Facebook had 25% fewer teen users in 2013 than it did in 2011.

This fact could apparently support Princeton's study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, the reality is that the paper is full of flaws.

First, the researchers found that Google Trends data was accurate at predicting the course of a flu outbreak, because the need for information regarding the flu follows the same cycle as the flu itself. Tacitly assuming that Google Trends is accurate at predicting other things, they used it to predict the future growth of Facebook. As a result, they found that the social network would almost be gone by 2017.

It turns out that using Google Trends to predict things could lead to crazy results. Mike Develin, a data scientist at Facebook, used the same algorithm with the number of "Princeton" searches on Google. He found out that by 2018, the university would have only half of its current enrollment, and by 2021, it will have no students at all. Using the same method, he even finds out that, since the Google Trends for keyword "air" has also been declining steadily, by year 2060 there will be no air left!

The missing factor
As Media's CEO Gary Vaynerchuk noted, the Princeton study is missing something obvious. The habits of teens and adults are quite different. People tend to experiment more in their teens and early 20s. And they are prone to change their social apps more frequently. However, adults' habits are less likely to change. They go to their favorite spots over and over again. 

The fact that a lot of Facebook users are 30 or older should help the social network to stay around for many more years. Once an adult user gets accustomed to Facebook, he won't change his entire online social network to a different app unless there's a very strong reason for doing so.  

In this way, losing teens may not be as bad as it seemed to be in the first place. After all, teenagers are difficult to retain. From a pure user-demographic perspective, it may be harder for Twitter to keep its users. This is because Twitter's core group in the U.S. is made up of those between the ages of 13 and 44, with the 18-24 age bracket making up for almost 20% of Twitter's total users. 

Final Foolish takeaway
Princeton's study does not take into consideration the well-known fact that adults' habits are less likely to change. At the moment, Facebook may be losing teens to Snapchat. But on the bright side, there are now relatively more adults on Facebook with higher acquisitive power, and who are less likely to move their entire online social activity to a different platform. 

As fellow Fool contributor Andrew Marder notes, Princeton's study shows investors once more how important it is to take research, even from a prestigious source, with a grain of salt.

Looking for a big winner in social media?
Opportunities to get wealthy from a single investment don't come around often, but they do exist, and our chief technology officer believes he's found one. In this free report, Jeremy Phillips shares the single company that he believes could transform not only your portfolio, but your entire life. To learn the identity of this stock for free and see why Jeremy is putting more than $100,000 of his own money into it, all you have to do is click here now.

Adrian Campos has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers