Facebook will lose 80 per cent of users within three years before eventually dying out “like the bubonic plague”, according to US scientists.
Researchers at Princeton University say the giant social networking site has spread like an infectious disease but users are slowly becoming immune to its attractions.
They forecast that the site will be largely abandoned by 2017 after comparing the growth curve of epidemics like the plague to those of online social networks.
Facebook, which celebrates its 10th birthday on February 4, has outlasted rivals such as MySpace and Bebo but the experts claim it will lose 80 per cent of its users within the next three years.
Researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google as a search term. They discovered that Facebook searches peaked in December 2012 and have begun to tail off.
“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 report in a paper entitled ‘Epidemiological modelling of online social network dynamics’.
“Ideas are spread through communicative contact between different people who share ideas with each other”, they say, adding that users “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.”
Facebook is due to update investors on its latest traffic numbers at the end of the month. Its most recent figures, released in October, showed nearly 1.2 billion monthly active users.
But the company’s chief financial officer David Ebersman admitted on an earnings call with analysts that during the previous three months: “We did see a decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens.”
Web experts said that the decline in desktop traffic to Facebook may be partially explained by the fact that many people now only access the network via their mobile phones.
According to estimates, 870 million people use Facebook via their smartphones each month, which could explain the drop in Google searches. Users accessing the site no longer do so by typing the name of site into Google.
Despite the grim forecast, investors appear to be untroubled. Facebook’s share price reached record highs this month, valuing the company founded by Mark Zuckerberg at £85 billion.