I CAN still remember a time when Twitter was brilliant. When I began using it in around 2011, it felt vibrant and bright. There was a real novelty to the nature of the interaction – unlike Facebook, which brought real-life relationships into the virtual world, Twitter was about building bonds with complete strangers based on shared interests. In just 140 characters, as it was then, users gradually found kindred spirits around the world.

But today, all is not well in Twitter land. Earlier this week it emerged that shares in the platform fell by nearly 20 per cent after Twitter admitted its number of active users had fallen from 336 million to 335 million in the second quarter of the year, and it expects to lose more in the third.

Part of that number can be attributed to Twitter itself, which recently deleted a number of fake accounts – a move that may have slightly miffed real users as their follower counts dropped as a result.

To put it into some context, big social media rival Facebook counts its active user number at more than two billion.

Twitter has struggled to keep users hooked and grow its base in recent years, and it hasn’t dealt adequately enough with the serious criticisms it has faced over the online abuse and trolling which is now deeply embedded in its platform.

From a user perspective, it feels a little tired, and whenever the Twitter bosses have attempted to freshen things up, it feels more like a poor impression of things its rivals have already done.

For instance, in the earlier days of social media, all of our news feeds were chronological. Facebook made a dramatic change to that when it began using algorithms to prioritise posts users probably wanted to see most. Its algorithms were also a stroke of marketing genius for the social network, as advertisers flocked to a platform that could guarantee its tech would get brands and products right in front of the people most likely to buy them.

More recent changes to the Twitter ticker have seen the introduction of an "in case you missed it" selection of tweets. It’s useful, it’s interesting, but it isn’t groundbreaking; it doesn’t change the overall experience. It’s a small thing, but it feels like a bad impression of something a rival did ages ago. Small is the word: Twitter changes make a very small impact. It lacks any boldness of spirit. Even the extension of the tweet character limit from 140 to 280 characters felt hollow; in theory it was a big deal for Twitter to change one of the defining characteristics of the service, but in practice it made little difference to the way people use it.

When it comes to safety features, again everything feels like lukewarm gestures. Twitter seemed totally unprepared for the invasion of nasty, abusive troll behaviour on the platform (in fairness, most social networks didn’t see it coming on the scale that it came), not to mention the problem of "bot" accounts – which do everything from advertising porn sites to spreading propaganda – and its response has been confused.

Some of its larger moves, such as banning far-right mouthpieces like Milo Yiannopoulos, don’t convey a thorough understanding of the problem. Twitter traditionally had a totally open platform attitude when it came to freedom of speech. It’s common in the emerging tech world to see a very libertarian attitude towards it, and it comes as no surprise that a bunch of mostly white and mostly young men failed to see the downside.

In reality, social media has become an attack tool for racists, misogynists, bigots and, well, holders of just about any extreme view you might be able to think of, and in the real world we have laws to prevent such people from plunging the lives of others into undeserved misery. Banning some high-profile, troublesome users is all very well and good, but that alone doesn’t substantially alter the fabric of a platform that, like others, has resisted calls to take more responsibility for the content published by its members.

A failure to maintain fresh appeal combined with the disastrous PR brought on by story after story of people being targeted by bullying and abuse, has made Twitter a very unattractive place for many. For those of us still using it, it often feels like a chore. We feel like we should stick it out for a while longer, but we’re not even sure why anymore.

This is a crunch point for Twitter, probably one of a number to come, where it must not only reimagine what it wants to be, but it absolutely must clean itself up.

If it doesn’t, it could become the next big social media casualty, finding itself inhabiting a cyber graveyard with the likes of MySpace and Bebo. It’s probably very telling that, as an active user myself, I really wouldn’t mind if it did.