A researcher from Carnegie Mellon University has built a model that predicts the success of membership-based websites and — unlike a controversial report out of Princeton last month — his findings suggest Facebook will continue to thrive for the foreseeable future.
The researcher, Bruno Ribeiro, studied 22 sites and focused on daily active users, or DAUs, as the most meaningful method of defining their relative health. He found certain patterns that signify sites that will be self-sustaining and those that will fail, as well as distinct patterns signifying sites that gained user mainly via word of mouth and those that gained them mainly via heavy marketing.
He also found that, assuming nothing else emerges to steal its thunder, Facebook probably won’t see a significant dropoff in DAUs any time soon. (The full paper is available here. A press release summarizing it is available here.)
For whatever their worth, the study’s most compelling findings are probably more in the way of proving assumptions about website growth and membership than they are new insights. Generally speaking, Ribeiro found that word-of-mouth growth is much better for a site’s long-term sustainability and that sites that frequently update members on new happenings also see more long-term engagement.
The real story behind these models and the findings might be the same story that has driven industries from retail to publishing for decades. Specifically, that quality — of content or product or whatever a company is selling — is king, and the rest is secondary. If a site is useful, fun or engaging, people will come back. If it’s not, they’ll tire of it and move on.