A story that caught my eye this week was about a Princeton University study that predicted Facebook would lose around 80 per cent of its users by 2017.
The study compared Facebook to a contagious epidemic that grows, peaks and then fades out as people become immune.
It’s an interesting way to look at it, but Facebook is not a disease or sickness that snares unwilling participants. It’s an online application that people use because they want to.
Princeton researchers cited a decline in Google searches for “Facebook” since 2012 to help make their case that the social network is already declining in popularity.
Facebook hit back, using what it said was a similar methodology to humourously conclude that Princeton will lose half of its students by 2018 and all of them by 2021, not to mention that the world’s air supply will run out by 2060.
The Princeton study was lacking some basis in reality. That’s not to say its conclusion was necessarily wrong, even though the evidence used to get there was flawed. Facebook’s decline could be even more severe and swift than predicted.
Then again, Facebook’s user base could double or triple in the coming years. Its last earnings report said it had 1.19 billion monthly active users. That still leaves an untapped global market of about six billion people.
Things change quickly in the online world, and in technology in general. Every once in a while you might be watching a TV rerun or a movie that’s a few years old. You watch it with the mindset that the plot unfolding could be something happening right now, until you see someone take out a flip phone and all of a sudden you’re feeling nostalgic about 2005.
Quite a few things from the digital age have come and gone, or at least retreated into obscurity — from floppy disks, DOS, and dial-up Internet, to WordPerfect and Myspace. Some have speculated BlackBerry will soon join them.
In the last half-decade or so, social networks and smartphones have become part of people’s lifestyles, while the online viewing of TV shows and movies has broadcasters and television-service providers trying to figure out how to respond. Making the content available through broadcasters’ own online platforms is one option, as noted in our story this week on “stacking” rights (for subscribers only).
Some of those technological items omnipresent in our lives right now will no doubt disappear in the coming years. But somewhere around the bend is the next online obsession that either replaces or joins Facebook, or another pocket-sized gadget that will hold our attention and keep us psychologically cut off from all that surrounds us.
There are hints of what the next wave of technology may bring, but we can’t say for sure what the next big thing is until it is the big thing. The Internet of everything, where machines rather than people start connecting to the web in a major way, is often cited as a trend that’s well underway. Wearable computing devices, ranging from glasses to wristwatches, is another. Automobiles that are increasingly connected to the web are also becoming a thing. Ever hear of HD Radio? We have.
This sets the stage for an exciting time in human history. Some or all of the above-listed things might truly transform our lives, or developments might stall for a number of reasons, not the least of which is if someone decides there’s no money to be made from them.
But somewhere lurking in the background is a technological breakthrough we won’t even see coming, which could change the world — or just bring us hours upon hours of mind-numbing fun.
We’ll try to warn you ahead of time.