Why did some online social networks collapse?

Some online social networks lost so many users at such a fast speed that they can be considered collapsed. Some lost millions of users in a matter of weeks. You can see this in the Google trends volume for some deceased online social networks:

Friendster, as we saw in the social resilience topic, went from 80 Million active users to disappear completely.

MySpace went from being valued more than 12 Billion USD in 2008 to be bought by Justin Timberlake for 35 Million USD. It’s still online, but very far from the user base it had in the past.

Orkut was the first attempt of Google to launch an online social network. It was very popular in some countries but lost users to Facebook and it was eventually taken offline.

Google+ was the much promoted second attempt at social networks by Google. Despite the initial hype, it lost users pretty quickly and it has been discontinued too.

Predicting Facebook’s collapse

In 2014, Cannarella and Spechler uploaded a preprint to Arxiv presenting an epidemics model applied to the decay of online social networks. The measured the number of active users on Facebook using Google trends as above and fitted their model on the time series of interest. They extrapolated in the future and predicted that Facebook would lose 80% of its users by 2017:

Canarella and Spechler’s article got lots of attention in news media, being covered by Time and The Guardian. Now in 2021, not only Facebook hasn’t collapsed, but it has more users than ever and that Arxiv preprint hasn’t passed peer-review yet. What happened?

Data scientists at Facebook replied to the Arxiv paper showing the problem with measuring social network use levels using Google Trends data. Applying the same methodology, Facebook researchers reached the conclusion that Princeton would lose 80% of its students by 2021: