Like an infectious disease that initially spreads and then abruptly dies, Facebook's growth is set for a rapid decline within the next few years, according to a new study from Princeton University.

Researchers at Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering predict that Facebook will lose 80 per cent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, used epidemiological models used to track the spread of infectious diseases and publicly available Google search query data, to explain how users adopt and abandon online social networks.

The authors argue that the spread of an idea – in this case, joining and leaving Facebook-- is similar to the spread of a disease.

"Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people, before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models," the authors write.

According to the study, as Facebook users begin to leave, "recovery spreads infectiously" and other users also begin to lose interest in the social network.

The study used the example of Myspace, founded in 2005, to show how users join and eventually leave a social network.

Myspace reached its peak in 2008 with 75.9 million unique monthly visits in the U.S., before "decaying to obscurity" by 2011, the study says.

Myspace was purchased by News Corp during in 2005 for $580 million. In 2011, it was sold at a loss for $35 million.

The results from the study also suggest that Facebook has already reached the peak of its popularity and has already entered a "decline phase."