Mark Zuckerberg once said of his nascent rival: “Twitter is such a mess — it’s as if they drove a clown car into a gold mine and fell in.”
At the time using Twitter felt like a game of chance.
Sometimes your timeline loaded with Tweets, other times the famous “fail whale” was displayed, because the service was (once again) over capacity.
But people stuck with it because there was nothing else quite like it.
Where else could you find the heads of governments, celebrities, brands, and entirely random people exchanging thoughts, barbs and delightfully weird observations?
Over the years Twitter famously failed to innovate. Many of the features its talented and highly-paid team created never saw the light of day due to a culture of inertia.
Its user base was broadly stable, but never as large as its influence suggested. This is perhaps because journalists were amongst its biggest users, and so wrote about the platform far more than its much larger social media platforms, such as TikTok and Snapchat.
Since Elon Musk bought the company last year it has teetered on the brink of collapse. Firing 80% of the employees did not, as many predicted, lead the service to fail outright.
But countless other missteps have caused even hardcore Twitter users to question whether it has a future.
Efforts to build an alternative to Twitter have never quite worked, mostly because building a network is so intrinsically difficult. Google had a stab at it with the now mostly forgotten Buzz, which was quietly killed off in 2012 after never being more than a ghost town.
But more recent attempts have a new impetus.
Twitter’s co-founder, the enigmatic Jack Dorsey, has created one called Bluesky, which currently operates on an invite-only basis.
Mastodon is another, and its decentralised structure is appealing to some, though it is not clear it has the potential to go mainstream (which is perhaps a selling point to many of its users, who are wary of the spambots and trolls that plagued Twitter as it became popular).
But the challenger that looks most likely to succeed comes from Facebook’s parent company Meta.
Threads launches on July 6 and aims to solve the network effect problem by enabling any user with an Instagram account to use their existing login.
A key difference when compared to Twitter, according to Meta execs, is that it will be “sanely run.”