“Citizen social networks will complement, and may replace, some government functions,” says a new report from the analyst group Gartner. Social networks are cost effective, Gartner says, so they can be especially beneficial for governance in difficult economic times, but they will be most beneficial when run by agencies outside of the government. “The future of government is a very different government and, in some cases, no government at all,” said Gartner vice president and analyst Andrea DiMaio.

Government employment of social computing is still limited. Today the main function of government-created social networks is information exchange between organizations. In order to be successful with the public, government-created networks must have “a clear and magnetic purpose.”

“However, the most promising, and yet, most disruptive, communities are those created outside government. Examples in the UK include Netmums, a community of parents dealing with child-care issues, and PledgeBank, which allows users to set up pledges and then encourages other people to sign up to them”

Gartner believes that government’s desire to control its networks will inhibit their adoption. Instead, Gartner recommends that government agencies interface with already existing social networks, and recommends using agency employees to do so.

Gartner believes that many government functions such as human services, tax and revenue, health care and education, will be outsourced to private individuals. “[B]y 2011, 70 per cent of social computing deployments in government that achieve business benefits will do so in unplanned ways.”

Read Gartner's full press release is here.

By Mark Alvarez