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WTF of the week: Princeton researchers say Facebook will lose 80% of its users by 2017

We’re used to zany Wall Street analysts making wacky predictions about the tech world, such as the amazing prediction made by Money Map Press analyst Keith Fitz-Gerald last month about a merger between Microsoft and Apple. It’s a little bit rarer to see WTF-worthy tech predictions coming out of established universities that nominally have reputations to uphold as respectable learning institutions. Nonetheless, The Guardian reports that some researchers from Princeton are projecting that Facebook will lose a whopping 80% of its user base over the next three years alone.

What do the researchers base this seemingly ridiculous prediction on? Well, they took a look at the Google Trends chart and see that interest in Facebook seemingly peaked in late 2012 and has been trending downward ever since.

Of course, it could also be the case that Facebook is so ubiquitous at this point that people don’t feel they have to search for it and will just, you know, go directly to Facebook when they want to use it. Similarly, as The Guardian points out, people who download the Facebook app on their smartphones obviously never need to search for it since the social network is just one click away.

Or, there just might not be much of a correlation between peak Google searches and peak popularity — after all the Google Trends chart for World of Warcraft shows that search interest in the game peaked all the way back in 2005 and yet the game still grew to its peak of 12 million subscribers in 2010.

All the same, the researchers say that Facebook is treading a well-worn trail originally blazed by Friendster and MySpace.

“Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models,” the researchers write in their research paper on trends in social networks. “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.”

Or something.

While it’s not crazy to think that we’ve reached “peak Facebook” — the social networking site does have more than 1.2 billion active users, after all, so it might not have much more to grow — we can probably say with some certainty that it won’t turn into a Friendster-style ghost town over the span of a mere three years

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