80 per cent of users set to abandon Facebook by 2017

Facebook is set to lose 80 per cent of its users by 2017, according to researchers at Princeton University.

The decline of the world's largest social network was predicted using a model that compares the growth of social media to that of diseases.

The authors applied the susceptible, infected, recovered model of disease, which uses equations to map the spread and recovery of epidemics, to study the decline of social networks.

MySpace was used as a case study for how a social network spreads and then suffers rapid decline. MySpace hit its peak in 2008 but slumped as users grew tired of the lack of innovation and their peers flocking to other services.

The researchers examined Google Trends data and found that searches for Facebook peaked in December 2012. In October, Facebook had 1.2bn active users but rival social networks such as Twitter and Snapchat could hasten the company's decline.

Authors of the study John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler, from the university's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, wrote:

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.

The report found that when Facebook users joined the service they expected to stay indefinitely - but they would quickly lose interest if their peers drifted to other sites.

However, the forecasts of impending doom for the company may not be as powerful as the authors suggest. The study has been criticised because the data only covers Google searches and leaves out the rapidly increasing use of apps to access the site.