Earlier this month, a pair of Princeton researchers published a paper detailing a novel experiment: they plotted Facebook’s growth with a model ordinarily used to trace the spread of infectious diseases, which predicted that the social network—like any plague that’s burned through a significant portion of the population—will decline rapidly over the next few years.
The researchers’ methodology contained some flaws. For example, they decided to use the number of times “Facebook” is inputted into Google as their main dataset; those search queries reaching a peak in 2012 is a key reason why the model suggests the social network will plunge in popularity by 2017. The model also fails to incorporate variables such as competitors (or lack thereof), which renders its accuracy questionable at best; the researchers themselves admit that Facebook could decline at a much slower rate than suggested by their math.
Nonetheless, their story enjoyed major pickup among the tech press, eventually forcing Facebook to respond with a blog posting that would win major awards for snark, if such awards were ever given out.
“Like many of you, we were intrigued by a recent article by Princeton researchers predicting the imminent demise of Facebook,” the posting began. “Of particular interest was the innovative use of Google search data to predict engagement trends, instead of studying the actual engagement trends.”
Next, Facebook’s data scientists used the researchers’ own methodology to debunk the paper. They looked at the number of “Likes” received by Princeton on Facebook; they examined how often the query “Princeton” was used on Google Scholar (which resulted in the graph above); and in a final coup de grace, they entered “Princeton” into Google Trends. In all three cases, “Princeton” had declined in usage over the past few years.
“This trend suggests that Princeton will have only half its current enrollment by 2018, and by 2021 it will have no students at all, agreeing with the previous graph of scholarly scholarliness,” Facebook’s scientists concluded, tongues firmly in cheek. “Based on our robust scientific analysis, future generations will only be able to imagine this now-rubble institution that once walked this earth.”
Just to ram their point home, Facebook’s scientists then inputted the term “air” into Google Trends and found that it, too, had declined over the past few years: “Our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left.” Not all research is created equal, the posting concludes.
Nothing more vicious than a battle between scientists over data, no?