No, Facebook Isn't the Plague

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Facebook is an infectious disease, at least according to a recent study that used disease patterns to predict the popular social network will lose 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017. That diagnosis may be a bit premature.

Princeton University researchers John Cannarella and Joshua A. Spechler, from the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, applied models about contagion to the adoption and abandonment of social networks. They based their Facebook doom prediction on the number of times "Facebook" was searched on Google and compared that to the lifespan of MySpace, tracking the volume of searches for the networks as they experienced quick growth, a peak and then a decline. They argue that Facebook adoption was viral, and now we're becoming immune.

Source: Google Trends

The study is missing one crucial consideration: mobile. About 78 percent of Facebook's daily U.S. users access the site on mobile devices. Facebook's mobile dominance makes it unlikely the network will fade into oblivion. Fewer people may search for it, but that's because they're accessing it through an app on their phones. Also, who actually searches for "Facebook" these days?

It's true the network has seen a decrease in daily users -- especially among young people: The social network has lost 11 million young users since 2011 as it faces competition from other social networks such as Snapchat and Twitter. But despite the decrease in young people who think Facebook is "cool," many still have accounts and use it as a source of information. (That makes the network one of the best places for brands to target them, as Aaron Taube writes in Business Insider.)

Facebook is not MySpace. Facebook has overcome many of the spam and profit problems that plagued MySpace. It's also much more widely used than MySpace ever was. About 83 percent of Web users have Facebook, and Facebook says it has 1.2 billion monthly active users. The network also has the most global penetration among social networks.

Investors don't seem to be worrying: Facebook's share price reached a record high this month, and Sheryl Sandberg, the company's chief operating officer, just became a billionaire. The company scooped up the popular Instagram app in 2012 and is expanding its share of the digital-advertising market, most recently moving forward with its own mobile ad network.

Even if users become immune to Facebook the social network, it is very likely Facebook the company will continue to evolve and mutate and survive.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.