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Government ministers Tom Watson and David Lammy are among MPs who have signed up to a portal of parliamentarians' Twitter feeds

Tweetminster was launched on 18 December 2008, with four MPs: Cabinet Office minister Watson, the Labour MP Andy Reed, Grant Shapps of the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson, who mentioned the service on its launch day in the Commons.

Three more MPs have since joined: Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy and higher education minister David Lammy.

Twitter allows users to exchange short messages known as tweets, equivalent in length to a mobile phone text message. They can subscribe to other users' tweets by 'following' them.

Tom Watson – who has more than 800 followers for his Twitter account, on which he has posted more than 1,000 updates – noted a US Twitter portal for members of Congress, Tweetcongress, in a tweet on 14 December.

Alberto Nardelli, the chief executive of social entrepreneur website UnLtdWorld.com, asked if there was anything similar in the UK, to which Watson replied: "I've not come across anything similar. I don't think there's enough MPs using it in the UK to make it work at the moment."

Nardelli decided to set up Tweetminster nevertheless, and did so in two days. "The aim is really simple, to allow voters to have more open conversations with their members of parliament," he told GC News.

"It's not a tool where you have long debates on big issues, as you are limited to 140 characters," Nardelli added. "You wouldn't discuss the Iraq war." But an MP could write a tweet saying they will be joining a Commons debate on an issue, allowing voters to give their views in advance.

Nardelli said Twitter can complement blogs and other websites for MPs. "The advantage of this versus a blog is that a blog is more time intensive," but a tweet can link to a web page such as a blog entry. He pointed out that US president elect Barack Obama used tweets to tell followers he would be speaking on a subject, his blog to post the text and YouTube to post a video of it. "I think it's about using a tool for the right purpose."

Tweetminster includes a postcode search allowing users to see if their local MP is using Twitter, and in the new year will add functionality allowing users to search on issues.

However, on 23 December much of the discussion concerned Twitpanto – a pantomime to be held through Twitter, in which Tom Watson was due to play a role.

This article was originally published at Kablenet

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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