Facebook has spread like an infectious disease but we are slowly becoming immune to its attractions, and the platform will be largely abandoned by 2017, say researchers at Princeton University in America.
The forecast of Facebook's impending doom was made by comparing the growth curve of epidemics to those of online social networks. Scientists argue that, like bubonic plague, Facebook will eventually die out.
The social network, which celebrates its 10th birthday on February 4, has survived longer than rivals such as Myspace and Bebo, but the Princeton forecast says it will lose 80 per cent of its peak user base within the next three years.
John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, of the university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, based their prediction on the number of times Facebook is typed into Google. Google Trends charts show Facebook searches peaked in December 2012 and have since begun to trail 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 claim in a paper. "Ideas are spread through communicative contact between different people who share ideas with each other. Idea manifesters 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 reported nearly 1.2 billion monthly active users in October. While desktop traffic to its websites has indeed been falling, this is at least in part due to the fact that many people now only access the network via their mobile phones. This could explain the drop in Google searches - those looking to log on are no longer doing so by typing the word Facebook into Google.
Cannarella and Spechler used what is known as the SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model of disease, which creates equations to map the spread and recovery of epidemics. They tested various equations against the lifespan of Myspace, before applying them to Facebook. Myspace was founded in 2003 and reached its peak in 2007 with 300 million registered users, before falling out of use by 2011.