Brown gets into social media

Gordon Brown has joined the social media revolution by becoming the first head of a European government to open an account on Twitter.

Almost 50 updates can be seen on the Prime Minister's official micro-blogging site, which is 'following' 472 people, but is being 'followed' by significantly more.

The figures will please Tom Watson, Cabinet Office minister for transformational government, who yesterday set up a Whitehall taskforce so ministers can use Web 2.0 for their own ends.

In short, the taskforce will look at, and learn from, the way people are communicating with each other online, suggesting popular forums and social networks will be scrutinised.

Officials might end up using such sites to advise the communities within – so a network of mums would get near real-time tips from the state on health, welfare or pre-school education.

The lessons to be learnt from piggybacking established portals should help officials make Directgov, the information site for citizens, which had 7m users last month, more user-friendly.

Under its brief, the taskforce will also look at making government-owned data, such as maps, more accessible, so people can create 'mash ups' with other available data on the Web.

But Mr Watson, who says he was the first blogging MP, wants to harness Web 2.0 to help politicians as well as the public – something he says No 10's Twitter account has achieved.

He added: "We also need to look at the way Government talks to itself. Whitehall is arguably Britain's most important knowledge factory, but we're using out of date tools.

"Now I'm at the heart of the system, I can see policymaking is a stylised, traditional process."

The taskforce, which will meet next week, will be chaired by Richard Allan, a former Liberal Democrat MP, who is a blogger and head of European government affairs at Cisco Systems.

The group, to be populated by Web-savvy civil servants, will also consult on how social media can be used by Whitehall without breaching, or seeming to breach, its own rules.

"I want the taskforce to ensure that the Central Office of Information and Cabinet Office produce a set of guidelines that adheres to the letter of the law when it comes to the civil service code but also lives within the spirit of the age."

Mr Watson added that he would put forward draft guidelines on how public servants should use social media next week, with the full guidance due to be published by the Spring.

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