Many tech consultants have observed that CPA's are "technology challenged" as a group. This statement is generally followed by an apology to "*-challenged" people for lumping them in with a group such as us. (As an aside, I tend to believe that the technology aptitude of CPAs follows a bell-curve just like the tech ability of any profession - there are leaders and there are followers in every group, and I choose to think of myself as a leader rather than a member of an impaired group).
With this in mind, two electronic publishing technologies have recently swept the web. The first, blogs/newsfeeds, has been written about extensively in the press. Most of you who don't know me personally from either my practice or seminars are probably here because of Eva Lang's article on blogs from the June 2005 Journal of Accountancy. The second, wikis, has not been discussed as much, but represents a way for charitably minded professionals (or maybe just those of us with egos out of control) to share their knowledge with others.
A Wiki is like a user-maintained encyclopedia, with the readers contributing articles as they look for information on a topic. The granddaddy of all wiki websites is wikipedia.org. This site is typical of most wiki sites I've interacted with. It has a great deal of useful information, but it also has a great deal of garbage in its ranks. One example - we're all very sick of the Gwen Stefani song, "Hollaback Girl" (actually I heard entirely too much of it, to the point that it was ingrained in my brain). I looked "Hollaback Girl" and "bananas" up at Wikipedia (HG)(B) and at at urbandictionary.com (HG)(B). Note the difference in the two sets of definitions - Wikipedia has well edited and thought-out definitions, with discuss the commonly used definitions of the words, while UrbanDictionary has about six definitions for each word, some of which don't even make sense. Moral: Some wiki good, others bad. Choose carefully, and check before you link.
(At this point, many of the parents of teenagers are telling their kids that they are grounded for various issues related to "Hollaback Girl" and racy music videos, and the rest of you are wondering what in thunder Gwen Stefani has to do with accounting and technology.... Well, here it is-
We all remember the promise of CPA2Biz, and how it necessarily had to fall short of the huge expectations of all websites after the "dot com" crash of 2001. This week I received links to two interesting sites (Intuit's TaxAlmanac and First Horizon's CPA First Resource) seeking to join AccountantsWorld, CPA2Biz, AccountingWeb, AICPA, and your State CPA Society as your daily portal of choice.. Both Tax Almanac and CPAFirst Resource appear to be vendor-controlled resource listings, and strike me as hybrids between a blog and a wiki. Intuit's venture, TaxAlmanac, appears to be more of a Wiki than a blog (the main page includes:
TaxAlmanac is written by tax professionals from across the country and takes advantage of the knowledge of academia as well as practioners - in short, the real tax experts. The site includes key information that tax professionals find useful when conducting research - including the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury Regulations, Tax Court Cases, and a variety of Articles.
First Horizon's CPAFirstResource takes the form of an aggregation of weblogs instead of a wiki. Its historical market data is actually a link to CBS Marketwatch, and its market news feed is a subscription based feed from financial data provider FinWin. It is an interesting and useful site, and although it seems to sell First Horizon well, it appears to be in the early stages of its existence.
Blogs and wikis have funny names, and allow you to do some amazing things on your website on the cheap (for example, see www.bftcpa.com) and how I keep my website current with this blog. CPA's should be careful with what they take on the internet on faith. I like what I've seen of both these websites, and I think they will help practitioners be more productive and successful, but I also think they must be taken with a grain of salt (e.g. I don't think you'll see ads for Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Amsouth, Creative Solutions, or CCH on these sites), and the advice is probably only worth what you pay for it. Although some good samaritans will do good work in these forums, some others may give bad advice, and only time will tell how well these sites will be edited for factual accuracy.
The other point to this rambling post is to call your attention to the democratization of the web. Just four years ago, CPA2Biz was going to revolutionize how we all did business with our clients, and it did - by showing our profession that the democratization of information on the web makes it possible for any of us (even me) to have a website that looks as good as those of the big boys - we just have to decide what we want to accomplish and compile the data feeds which address those information needs. The sooner you see the web and your intranet/Sharepoint site as a toolbox and not as a temple for super freaky geeks, the more opportunities you will see to optimize your communications to your target markets, and increase your team's productivity through targeted information sharing. And that's what it is all about, isn't it?
Disclosure: I use Intuit's Quickbooks and Lacerte products, and am a fellow member of the Tennessee Society of CPA's, as well as a member of its professional development committee and the TSCPA Council, TSCPA is First Horizon's partner in CPAFirstResource.com. I am also a MS Registered Member, and teach courses for AICPA and Becker CPA review. The thoughts here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect any of the above organizations in any way, shape or form. Just like the fuel economy sticker says on the window of a new car, your mileage may vary.