Friday TechMunch: The Demise of Facebook? Maybe Not...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every social network giant will eventually crumble under the weight of accumulated banality (made up largely of misspelt posts, pictures of ultrasounds and funny cat vids – guilty as charged on the last one, in the case of the tech team).

Indeed, every one-time successful social network, from MySpace to Friendster to Xanga has repeated that woeful story arc; exploding into the collective consciousness, becoming vital, becoming standard, becoming boring, becoming an afterthought.

Facebook however, has thus far survived the influx of kids, parents and people’s dogs and, far from following in the footsteps of its predecessors, it seems to have reached such a critical mass that only weeks away from its 10th birthday (Feb 4th) you can barely classify as a human being without a profile.

Recent figures however, have suggested that teens at least seem to be fighting to escape its gravitational pull. According to iStrategy, Facebook has 4,292,080 fewer high-school aged users and 6,948,848 college-aged users than it did in 2011. The study also showed that teens (13-17) on Facebook have declined 25.3% over the past three years.

This week’s news was even more damning, with researchers from Princeton forecasting that the platform will be largely abandoned by 2017. This prediction of impending doom was pulled together by comparing the growth of social networks to the curve of infectious epidemics (admittedly not a bad idea). Princeton argues that, much in the same way as the bubonic plague, after this protracted boom period, Facebook will die out in only three years from now.

So, should we all sell our $57 shares?

Probably better not.

Firstly, to address the teenage drop-off rate, while the numbers definitely suggest that Facebook is not as hot with teens as it once was, the number of teenagers using it on their mobiles (the app data was not included) is still rising.

Facebook also continues to widely outdistance rivals when it comes to teen visits overall. Whereas 56% of all 16 to 19 year olds globally log in to Facebook at least once a month, only 35% go to YouTube, and 30% plump for Twitter, according to research by GlobalWebIndex.

The number of users over 55 has also exploded recently, with 80.4% growth in the past three years. True, there may be less peer pressure and posts about break-ups but older users tend to be less likely to leave. Once Grandma has all her birthdays and grandkid’s pics set up, she’s probably not going to bale in favour of SnapChat, just ‘coz it’s cooler.

As to the epidemic analogy, the researchers only tested their original equations against the MySpace story. MySpace, at its peak, had only (!) 300 million registered users – this is by no means the perfect parallel to pitch against Facebook’s 1.2 billion users, which is still rising.

The investors, usually a decent litmus test for these things, also don’t seem ready to pull the plug just yet. Facebook’s share price reached record highs this month, valuing the company at $142bn.

Of course, Facebook, like any other technology and every other social media site, is vulnerable to the ‘Next Big Thing’, but the chances are it’s here to stay… at least for its next few birthdays.

In the meantime, you can ‘Like’ FH over here.