Social Networking Not Dead Yet

Facebook likened to a virus, and Princeton research statistics questioned

A Princeton University study into social networking created a minor media furore over the past week in the United States media, claiming that social networking would decline as early as 2015 – 2017, with consequential damage to giants like Facebook.

Facebook was quick to respond, using a research model similar to that used by Princeton researchers John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler to tongue-in-cheek show that Princeton would likely have few students by the same timeframe.

Cannarella and Spechler, from the US university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google as a search term.

The charts produced by the Google Trends service show Facebook searches peaked in December 2012 and have since begun to trail off.

CNN commented: "It's an Internet feud between polar opposites: East Coast vs. West Coast, old school vs. new media, Ivy League gravitas vs. Silicon Valley geekery."

Cannarella and Spechler's published paper suggested Facebook could lose up to 80 percent of its users by 2017.

They based their projection on epidemiological models, typically used to chart the spread of disease, using the demise of Myspace as a case study. The research duo postulated (without peer-review) that Facebook has already peaked and is now in a gradual decline, despite its 1.2 billion members.

The mainstream media pounced on the story with articles supporting or decrying the Princeton findings, and Facebook's humorous and playful approach to rebutting the dire prediction enjoyed good coverage going into the weekend.

"Using the same robust methodology featured in the [Princeton] paper, we attempted to find out more about this 'Princeton University' — and you won't believe what we found!" Facebook data scientist Mike Develin wrote in a blog post.

Tongue-in-cheek, Develin used similar methodology to show that Princeton might have an equally bleak future.

"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," he wrote.

"Although this research has not yet been peer-reviewed, every Facebook "Like" for this post counts as a peer review. Start reviewing!"

Develin's amusing response and clever use of the researchers' own methods to counter attack went down well with the public and the media, with CNET defining it as "…the comeback of all comebacks."

By then Twitter had seized on the smack down, with the light-hearted riposte from Facebook going over well. As of Friday, Princeton had not responded to media requests for further comment.

Driving home their point, Facebook staffers Mike Develin, Lada Adamic and Sean Taylor also calculated that air would run out in 2060.

"We don’t really think Princeton or the world’s air supply is going anywhere soon,' they wrote."We love Princeton (and air).

"As data scientists, we wanted to give a fun reminder that not all research is created equal – and some methods of analysis lead to pretty crazy conclusions."

The CNN report notes that neither Facebook nor Princeton are in danger of wasting away any time soon. Princeton received 24,498 applicants for its current freshman class and accepted only 7.4 percent of them, and as of September 2013 Facebook had 1.2 billion monthly active users.

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