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Unlike a recent, widely publicized academic study that predicted an 80 percent drop in Facebook membership from 2015 to 2017, Bruno Ribeiro's model shows Facebook to be sustainable for the foreseeable future. As with all of these predictions, however, Ribeiro points out that even sustainable sites are vulnerable to upstarts that steal the attention of their members, as Facebook famously did to MySpace. (Credit: Nicola/Flickr)

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Is Facebook here to stay? Computer model says ‘probably’

Scientists say they’ve developed a new way to predict which websites and social media networks are sustainable and which are not.

The model, developed by Bruno Ribeiro, a postdoctoral researcher in Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department, attempts to replicate the dynamics of membership sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and TeaPartyNation, including the role of active users as catalysts of website activity, turning dormant website members into active users and keeping them active.

 The model projections of the sustainability of Facebook. (Credit: Carnegie Mellon)
The model projections of the sustainability of Facebook. (Credit: Carnegie Mellon)

In applying the model to six years of user statistics for 22 membership-based websites, Ribeiro says the model predicts the Huffington Post news site, Ashley Madison dating site, and the Blaze commentary site will be sustainable for the foreseeable future. Unsustainable sites include Flixster.com, OccupyWallSt.org, and TeaPartyPatriots.org.

Unlike a recent, widely publicized academic study that predicted an 80 percent drop in Facebook membership from 2015 to 2017, Ribeiro’s model shows Facebook to be sustainable for the foreseeable future. As with all of these predictions, however, Ribeiro points out that even sustainable sites are vulnerable to upstarts that steal the attention of their members, as Facebook famously did to MySpace.

It’s not enough to look at the total membership or the growth of membership of a site to understand which sites will be successful, Ribeiro says. His model accounts for the tendency of active members to become inactive, the influence that active members can have in encouraging friends to join or become active members, and the role of marketing and media campaigns in convincing people to join.

Increasingly annoying

Ribeiro tested the model by evaluating both successful and unsuccessful sites. “If you don’t look at the negative examples, you never understand what makes for success,” he says.

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The researchers obtained six years of daily number of active users (DAU) data, beginning in 2007, from Alexa, a website analytics company. “This study couldn’t have been done even two years ago,” he adds, “because data of this quality and breadth simply didn’t exist.”

In addition to separating the self-sustaining from the unsustainable sites, the model was able to discern which sites grew primarily from word of mouth, such as Facebook, Meetup.com, and LinkedIn, and those powered by media and marketing, such as the Blaze, Bandstack, and OccupyWallSt.

Unfortunately, the model also suggests that in the quest for attention, many sites are likely to increase annoying behaviors, such as sending emails about what friends on the site are doing.

“If this model is correct, social network sites will try to make your friends’ lives seem more interesting and your feedback on their posts more urgent,” Ribeiro says. Many teens, for instance, seem glued to their smartphones for fear of missing something that might get posted on a social site by or about a friend. “From the model’s perspective it is beneficial for companies to be encouraging this type of behavior,” he adds.

Ribeiro will present this research at the World Wide Web Conference, April 7 to 11, in Seoul, Korea.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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