John Cannarella & Joshua A. Spechler, "Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics", posted on arXiv.org 1/17/2014:
The last decade has seen the rise of immense online social networks (OSNs) such as MySpace and Facebook. In this paper we use epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of OSNs, where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery. We modify the traditional SIR model of disease spread by incorporating infectious recovery dynamics such that contact between a recovered and infected member of the population is required for recovery. The proposed infectious recovery SIR model (irSIR model) is validated using publicly available Google search query data for "MySpace" as a case study of an OSN that has exhibited both adoption and abandonment phases. The irSIR model is then applied to search query data for "Facebook," which 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.
There's been more media uptake that you might expect for a paper posted on arXiv.org by two graduate students: Adrian Cho, "Facebook Spreads—and May Die Out—Like a Disease", Science 1/22/2014; Reed Albergotti, "Controversial Paper Predicts Facebook Decline", WSJ 1/22/2014; "Is Facebook like a spreading disease that’s about to fade away? Princeton study creates stir", WSJ MarketWatch 1/22/2014; Juliette Garside, "Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017, say Princeton researchers", The Guardian 1/22/2014; Christian Cotroneo, "Facebook Losing Users, Princeton University Study Suggests — As Many As 80 Per Cent", Huffington Post 123/2014; "Facebook Headed For Extinction", Silicon India 1/23/2014; Facebook to die out by 2017, say experts", Tehran Times 1/24/2014; etc. etc. etc.
The response — Mike Devlin, Lada Adamic, and Sean Taylor, "Debunking Princeton", published on Facebook 1/23/2014:
Like many of you, we were intrigued by a recent article by Princeton researchers predicting the imminent demise of Facebook. Of particular interest was the innovative use of Google search data to predict engagement trends, instead of studying the actual engagement trends. Using the same robust methodology featured in the paper, we attempted to find out more about this "Princeton University" – and you won't believe what we found!
In keeping with the scientific principle "correlation equals causation," our research unequivocally demonstrated that Princeton may be in danger of disappearing entirely.
Devlin et al. use results from Google Scholar to show that publication by Princeton researchers will cease by 2020:
A similar fate can be predicted for student enrollments:
Of course, Princeton University is primarily an institution of higher learning – so as long as it has students, it'll be fine. Unfortunately, in investigating this, we found a strong correlation between the undergraduate enrollment of an institution and its Google Trends index:
This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all, agreeing with the previous graph of scholarly scholarliness. Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth.
But wait — it's worse than you think:
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:
Sean Taylor also contributed a reference to this classic xkcd:
Now that's peer review!
[In fairness to the mediaverse, I need to point out that the debunking has also been widely covered, though not yet in Science or the Guardian: Josh Constantine, "Facebook Hilariously Debunks Princeton Study Saying It Will Lose 80% Of Users", TechCrunch 1/23/2014; Salvador Rodriguez, "Facebook mocks Princeton, predicts school won't have students by 2021", LA Times 1/23/2014; Brandon Griggs, "It's Facebook vs. Princeton in study smackdown", CNN 1/24/2014; Mark Prigg, "Facebook hits back at Princeton study claiming it will lose 80% of its users within a year - telling University that by same calculation it will have no students by 2021", Daily Mail 1/24/2014; etc.]
[And Will Oremus, to his credit, actually read the paper and did his own debunking: "The Myspace Fallacy", Slate 1/23/2014. He suggests the lolmythesis version: "If you assume that Facebook is like Myspace, bring in a fancy model adapted from epidemiology, and crunch the numbers, it turns out that Facebook is a lot like Myspace."]