Big Data gone wrong: Facebook is doomed! And so is Princeton! And air!

Facebook dying?

Here’s a stark warning to anyone who thinks they can outwit one of Facebook’s very own data scientists…

Earlier this week, a pair of researchers at Princeton University made the news with the rather stunning claim that Facebook was on its last legs, and would lose almost 80 percent of its users within just three years. The basis of their surprising claims? The researchers likened the social network’s rise to the spread of disease, and henceforth concluded that Facebook, like all good epidemics, would eventually die off as people lost interest.

Not surprisingly, the research caught the attention of numerous media organizations and quickly went viral, and it wasn’t long before Facebook took notice. As many know, Facebook isn’t the kind of entity that allows such criticism to slide, and so it quickly delegated its own data scientist Mike Develin to come up with his own “study,” which, rather humorously, found that Princeton too, is also staring into the abyss.

Develin’s main issue with the Princeton report was the method by which Facebook’s popularity over time was studied. The researchers’ claims were largely based on analysis of Google trends, which they used to determine how often people searched for the term “Facebook” on Google. Their analysis showed that searches for the social media site were on the decline, and noted that the long-since-forgotten MySpace and Bebo social networks followed a similar pattern before their own demise.

This methodology prompted Develin to look at searches for the term “Princeton,” not to mention the number of ‘likes’ that the university had received on Facebook over the years. Surprise, surprise: he found that interest in Princeton was also on the wane.

“This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all,” wrote Develin. “Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth.”

If that wasn’t funny enough, Develin took things one step further, warning that his “research” demonstrated that all life on earth could soon cease to exist:

“While we are concerned for Princeton University, we are even more concerned about the fate of the planet — Google Trends for ‘air’ have also been declining steadily, and our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left.”

Develin’s riposte (you can see the full “report” here) is extremely funny and well worth a read, but on a more serious note it does raise the question of Facebook’s future prospects. The social media site turns ten years old next month, and one has to wonder if it will still be around, continuing to dominate the internet, in say 10 or 20 years time.

Develin couldn’t answer that question in his research, but he did suggest that researchers should look at actual Facebook data if they want to better gauge its popularity – and that data (naturally) shows that interest in the social media giant is still slowly but surely trending upwards.