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Twitter has a new timeline for you -- if you want it

The prospect alone of a revamped timeline stirred the #RIPTwitter protest. Now the change is actually upon us.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
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Twitter is offering users the option of surfacing important tweets at the top of their timelines.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Your Twitter timeline is definitely getting a new look. It's up to you what to make of it.

The social network on Wednesday unveiled a feature that gives users the option of modifying their timelines to highlight tweets. Like Twitter's "while you were away" recap launched a year ago, the new timeline will present key tweets at the top of people's feeds, followed by the normal stream of messages in reverse chronological order.

"You follow hundreds of people on Twitter -- maybe thousands -- and when you open Twitter, you may feel like you've missed their most important tweets," Mike Jahr, senior engineering manager at Twitter, said in a blog post Wednesday. "Today, we're excited to share a new timeline feature that helps you catch up on the best tweets from people you follow."

San Francisco-based Twitter needs to renew interest in its service, which at one time was the epitome of trendy and up-to-the-minute. But consumers now have many options for keeping up with friends, celebrities and the news, from an ever-expansive Facebook to hot alternatives such as Instagram and Snapchat.

Twitter's troubles are reflected in the numbers: Its user growth has ground almost to a halt. In the third quarter, the company had 320 million monthly active users, a 1.2 percent increase from the preceding quarter.

To attract new users and increase their activity, the company has been working to freshen the look and functions of the 9-year-old service. In the fall, for instance, it introduced a feature called Moments, which curates tweets, videos and images of major trending events including sports and breaking news.

The company also last year ditched its chief executive officer, Dick Costolo, replacing him with co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey.

So far, investors have been unimpressed with those efforts, sending the value of Twitter's stock down more than 68 percent in the past 12 months. Shares closed Tuesday down 50 cents to $14.40, a loss of 3.4 percent.

Twitter is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter financial results after the stock market closes Wednesday.

The new timeline feature may be hard-pressed to boost Twitter's status. Its debut follows hot on the heels of a brouhaha, summed up in the hashtag #RIPTwitter, that erupted online over the mere prospect of the change. Buzzfeed had reported that the company would adopt an algorithm-based system to prioritize tweets in your timeline, similar to how Facebook organizes posts, rather than displaying them in the traditional order of newest to oldest.

Upset that Twitter might be monkeying with their feeds, many users threatened to abandon the service. In response, Dorsey on Saturday took to Twitter in a carefully worded attempt to sooth nerves.

In his blog post Wednesday, Twitter's Jahr also hedged a bit about users' potential reaction to the change. "We love it and think you will too," he wrote. "If you don't...you can easily turn it off."