Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Deadbook, the long-term Facebook

There are approximately 7 billion people in the world. The average life expectancy is somewhere around 67.5 years, a bit higher in the developed world, lower in other parts (with Angola a shocking low at 40 years!).

So in the next 67.5 years a very large fraction of 7 billion people and possibly even more will die (more than half of those alive today + half of those that have not yet been born), and not that long afterwards the rest, with a few outliers to get older than 100 or so. 67.5 years * 365 days is about 25,000 days. That’s about 280,000 deaths per day average. Right now that number is lower at about 155,000, but as the population ages that will catch up with us (because then there will be more older people than young people). None of this assumes the world population is going to grow further, which it most likely will.

Facebook now has appromiximately one billion users. Most of those are in the developed world so the average lifespan will be a bit higher, perhaps as high as 75 years. One billion users living 75 years long still works out to 36500 people or thereabouts dying every day.

In the beginning, when facebook opened, obviously everybody that was a member was still alive, a place full of vibrancy and colour. But at the rate they were growing it probably didn’t take very long before the first facebook member died. Given the fact that facebook initially was aimed at college students I figure that chances are that wasn’t a peaceful death of old age. More likely an accident or some terrible disease.

As time passes the frequency with which people on facebook are dying will go up. The reason for that is that the average age of ‘facebookers’ that joined in the past will creep up, one day at the time, and that older people are joining facebook as well in ever larger numbers.

Sooner or later facebook will reach a stage of equilibrium, just like the world population, where the number of people dying will balance (and will possibly even exceed for a while) the number of people joining.

And in the very long term there will actually be more dead people on facebook then there are people living on facebook. I’d estimate that crossover to be around 50 years into the future, possibly a bit later. (How I get to the 50 years: if the life expectancy is 67.5 years that means that after 67.5 years half the people alive today will be dead, + a good fraction of those that haven’t even been born yet. At 1 billion people in there today that would mean 500 million of them would have to have died + half of those not yet born today. Let’s ignore those not yet born today for simplicity’s sake, that leaves 37 years based on the rate of 36500 per day. Adding back in some effect for people not yet born who will be typically younger and therefore healthier so less likely to die that number will shift into the future a bit, but not tremendously so, say another 10 to 15 years added to it (because even if they’re younger and healthier, some of them will die too).

That steady state will be a cross between a place to meet the living and one to remember those that came before, and in the very long term the living will only be a very small fraction of the people on facebook that are dead!

I wonder at which point the atmosphere on facebook will change, from photo sharing website to digital graveyard, a place where we come to worship our ancestors.

To combat some of these ‘chilling effects’ (to put it mildly) Facebook has a procedure they call memoralization, this will limit the access to facebook pages to ‘confirmed friends’. Eventually those will pass away too and the moment when facebook’s last friend-of-a-friend passes away would be the moment the profile has finally lost value for facebook.

So presumably, that’s the moment they’ll finally remove your browsing history, and that silly photo of you passed out drunk after the party ;)

But that’s assuming that people actually report you to be dead. Another way to combat this is to set a practical limit to the age that facebookers can have, say 150 years. That way even if all your ‘friends’ forget to report that you kicked the bucket you will still be cleaned up by the digital grim reaper.

life expectancy by country

how many people die every day

Facebook help page on deceased people