Facebook could be about to experience a sudden and jarring fall from grace - if a new study comparing the site to a virulent 'disease' is to be believed.
Researchers at Princeton University said that the social network could lose up to 80% of its users by 2017 based on a new model which likens its sudden growth to that of a virus.
Facebook is barely 10 years old - its first decade will be marked on 4 February - but already there is circumstantial, though extremely controversial evidence to suggest its core users are starting to turn away.
Now John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, from Princeton's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, say that using simple data gleamed from Google Trends, it appears the tide has turned.
They studied how often users typed in Facebook to the site, and extrapolated out a graph which showed those searches peaked in late 2012. Since then they have been declining, and if the trend corresponds to other similar declines - both of diseases, and other social networks, it might be irreversible.
Specifically the study used a modified 'SIR' (susceptible, infected, recovered) model to check Facebook data against how infections spread and decline over time.
"Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models.
Again, this follows intuitively, as 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.
… Extrapolating the best fit model into the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 percent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017."
There are, of course, caveats. First, there may be other reasons for the decline in users searching 'Facebook' that didn't apply in cases like MySpace and Bebo - for instance the amount of users switching to mobile apps.
Facebook currently has 1.2 billion active users, with 870 million accessing the site via smartphones - though in a recent call chief financial officer David Ebersman did admit that the site has seen a "decrease in daily users, specifically among younger teens".