Earlier today, we posted an article about the attention-grabbing study that suggests four out of five people on Facebook will leave the platform by 2017. The study got a lot of attention because of its outrageous predictions and the fact that it came from researchers at Princeton. The gut reaction most people had to reading such a report is that it can’t possibly be true. And most people are absolutely right! This article will review the research and explain why it makes for good headlines but nothing else.
In a nutshell, the study used Google Trends to see how much people are talking about Facebook. Seeing that people were searching for the word Facebook less, the study suggests that Facebook will lose 80 percent of it user base by 2017. The authors contend that using their analysis, they could have predicted the fall of Myspace.
If the conclusions of this report seem dubious, this is for good reason. The study has many glaring flaws. The biggest is that the entire study is based on disease models. The study is assuming that Facebook is a disease and that people will start getting better soon. Obviously, most Facebook users, Facebook itself, and the lion’s share of researchers would not categorize the social networking site as a disease. The authors in the study even acknowledge that disease models have only occasionally been use to chart the growth and decline of ideas, but never for the adoption of physical technology like this.
The study also relies on “If current trends continue” logic to come up with a specific percentage. The fact is, that in a society with free-willed people, human behavior rarely moves in line with current trends. To illustrate, in the Simpsons, Disco Stu tries to convince Homer to invest in disco records by saying, “Did you know that disco record sales were up 400% for the year ending 1976? If these trends continue… A-y-y-y!” It’s this kind of flawed logic that Princeton study relies on.
Facebook has proven itself very capable in modifying the platform to make it more relevant and useful to visitors. Its unlikely that Facebook will be exactly the same as it is now by the end of the year, let alone after three or four. It would be like someone say, after the 2012 election, that they knew exactly how people would vote in 2016. Even now, Facebook is making changes to the way it does business in ways that may change the game entirely.
For its part, Facebook has taken the news generated by the report well. They addressed the concerns but do so in a way that is effective but doesn’t lend credence to the study. In a tongue-in-cheek post, the company pointed that using the same criterion as the study, Princeton itself would have 50 percent enrollment by 2018 and no enrollment at all by 2021. Similarly, the researchers note that trends for “air”, the stuff we breathe, are also trending downward.
“Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth,” the researchers wrote. “While we are concerned for Princeton University, we are even more concerned about the fate of the planet — Google Trends for “air” have also been declining steadily, and our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left.”
Perhaps the biggest evidence against the claims of the study is seen in the earning reports released by Facebook. On Wednesday, the company released a report showing it was 63 percent increase in revenue and an 800 percent increase in profits. The better-than-expected results sent Facebook shares up 12% in after-hours trading to $59.98, near their all-time high. There is little reason to think that Facebook profits will go from all-time highs to fall off a cliff in just a few years.
This whole issue illustrates the importance of knowing how to vett information. There is a lot of information on the internet and business owners need to know how to tell what information they should use when making decisions. It’s dangerous to be guided by the first statistic someone finds that supports their preconceived notions. In the end, a report that says 80 percent of Facebook will leave in three years is attention grabbing, but that’s about it.