San Francisco-born Twitter plans to scrap its hand-picked list of "suggested users" to follow after controversy erupted over the selection of people on the list, a company executive said Monday.
"That list will be going away," company cofounder Biz Stone told reporters on the sidelines of a conference for young entrepreneurs in Malaysia's capital, Putrajaya. "In its stead will be something that is more programmatically chosen, something that actually delivers more relevant suggestions."
Stone said the company was looking for a more systematic way to introduce its prominent posters, including sports figures, celebrities and politicians, to newcomers to the site. He indicated the suggestions could eventually be tailored to new users' interests, though he did not elaborate. Nor did he say when the list would be removed or replaced.
Twitter's Suggested Users List, more commonly known as the SUL, numbers around 500 suggested users and proved controversial after its launch earlier this year. Recently, political watchdogs in California criticized the list, claiming it favors Democrats over Republicans in the state's gubernatorial race next year.
Being one of Twitter's "suggested users" could drive followers up by thousands. On average, users on the list could gain around 50,000 new followers after being on the list for a week, according to a study by O'Reilly tech researcher Ben Lorica.
Stone and other company employees choose who will be featured on the list. Twitter has said the list is based on users "who show that they provide value by posting often and engaging with their followers."
The company's CEO and co-founder, Evan Williams, suggested last month that the company would be adjusting the list to be more "Twittery and democratic."
Twitter plans to add other new features, including an easier, faster way to forward messages, and wants to be translated into more languages, Stone said. It is presently available in English, Japanese and Spanish.
"Ninety-seven percent of our efforts are basically on delivering user value," he said. "Everyone is still experimenting. It's still young, it's still early. Anything goes right now as we figure out what works and what doesn't work."
The popularity Twitter, which allows users to post 140-character messages sharing everything from mundane details about their lives to major news, has soared. The number of users increased more than tenfold within a year to 54 million currently.