Rumors of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s impending doom may have been greatly exaggerated. A recent research paper (which hasn’t passed peer review) surfaced online and immediately went viral. Lots of people have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, so it’s not surprising that a paper claiming the site would lose 80% of its users by 2017 and go the way of MySpace would immediately get shared and liked all over the site.
This isn’t the first such study, and it won’t be the last. Not even a month ago Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) was pronounced “dead and buried” by a British academic (the statement was later clarified into meaninglessness) because a handful of school kids somewhere in England don’t care for it. With something like 800 million daily active users, the idea that Facebook will wither away without some unforeseen catalyst doesn’t pass the laugh test.
Facebook offers satiric response
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) had a tongue in cheek response ‘proving’ that Princeton will have half the student body by 2018 and no students by 2021, using the same Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Trend correlation arguments that Princeton researchers used to argue that Facebook is going to lose its user base.
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But the best refutation probably goes to Alex Fitzpatrick at Time. The original study argued that if you look at the number of searches for Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) on Google Trends and compare the shape of the curve to MySpace, Facebook appears to be at its apex and a quick descent is around the corner. Here are those curves on a single graph.
Compared to Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), MySpace was never much more than a fly-by-night company.
Fewer searches is a victory for Facebook
Google Trends is a fascinating tool that may have legitimate uses, but the Princeton researchers seem to be assuming a causal relationship when one probably doesn’t exist. People don’t need to search for Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) if they’re on the site every day, either on their computer or with a mobile app. Also, it’s a sign of Facebook’s success that search engines are no longer the sole gateway to information online, at least as much reaches people through social media.
Hopefully, this will also teach people to be a little more skeptical about research that hasn’t been peer reviewed. aXiv.org is a great resource for academics that want to get their ideas out there (both for feedback and to claim credit for an exciting discovery), but within the scientific community everyone knows to take those papers with a grain of salt. Science journalists should do the same.