From the January 2009 Issue
A dozen years ago, we, for all practical purposes, didn’t have e-mail. Those few of us who were trying it were plagued with unstable platforms, flakey services, incompatible formats, and a world full of non-believers. The technology solved itself, and as it did the non-believing public slowly (sometimes grudgingly), adapted to digital life. But there was a time during the transition when those “non-believers” grumped and scoffed and even ridiculed those of us in the “early adopter” group. It’s apparent that we’ve now overcome all those obstacles, and many of us, especially those of us practicing public accounting, now live lives totally intertwined with e-mail and its related contacts, tasks and calendars. Think hard ... can you even REMEMBER life before Outlook?
There is another fundamental change brewing, and all of the same forces are once again gathering. This time it’s not e-mail, but social networking. Ask anyone over the age of 30, and you’ll quickly discover two things. The first is that they don’t understand it, and the second is that they think it’s a waste of time and that only 14 year-olds use it … and then only to talk about Britney Spears. Ask anyone UNDER the age of 30, and you’ll find out they’re absolutely convinced that they could simply not live without it! Let’s examine the truth and perhaps envision some ways that the concepts might be adapted for us in coming years.
All social networks are either “trust based” or “friend based.” The former means one person’s product (idea, opinion, etc.) is “endorsed,” and the weight of multiple endorsements builds “trust.” The latter means that connections are only recognized following an invitation and acceptance. In other words, I ask you to “be my friend,” and only if you “accept” is a connection established. There are huge problems with the system(s) today.
For example, there are too many (do we really need MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, et al?). They are, for the most part, not interoperable (remember the early cell phones that didn’t allow cross-carrier calls? Insane!), and the “friend/not a friend” categories fail to provide anywhere near the granularity we require for complex human inter-personal relationships. While not trivial, these problems are solvable, and I’m confident that the next several years will present valid solutions. As that happens, I see huge benefits for consumers in general and our profession specifically.
I envision a product/service that, when offered and properly marketed, will be a huge boon. Here it is … and I hope every developer out there sees a germ of a good idea here, adds his/her own refinements, and sells millions while retiring rich. The service — I’ll call it MY-SUPER-PORTAL — will be a web-based (SaaS) document management system. It will include a rich and well-built set of indices that would guide the end user through the setup and maintenance process. It would start with broad categories like Banking, Insurance and Brokerage and then further drill down to Checking, Savings, CDs, etc., and then further drill down to a list of providers.
This has been done quite well in analog (paper) form for years, and the leading example is Thomson Reuters PPC’s LifeRecords product. It’s a workbook designed to ease the otherwise daunting task of gathering all of a client’s important records. It’s great — or at least WAS great — in 1995. In today’s world, those records are (or at least should be) digital. And the task of gathering and organizing should be automated. This is where MY-SUPER-PORTAL and the concept of social networking enter.