to the World of Web 2.0
By Yu Cong and Hui Du
MAY 2007 - Over
the past 10 years, most professionals have probably become acclimated
to using the World Wide Web—e-mailing colleagues and clients,
using search engines to verify information, downloading forms from
the IRS’s website. If all of these common activities could
be considered version 1.0 of the web, then the newest technologies
could be called “Web 2.0.”
phrase Web 2.0 came out of a Silicon Valley conference in 2004.
Compared to “Web 1.0,” Web 2.0 fills the gap between
a web browser and desktop applications. It brings together documents
and data scattered over local computers and the Internet, and
facilitates collaboration and sharing.
Is Web 2.0?
is such a new concept that many don’t know whether it is
merely a buzz word or represents new technologies. It’s
true that many of the features that represent Web 2.0 are still
emerging, though some have become quite established.
article, “What is Web 2.0” (www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html)
provides insights behind the coining of the term. According to
the free collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Web 2), Web 2.0 is “a second generation of services
available on the World Wide Web that lets people collaborate and
share information online. In contrast to the first generation,
Web 2.0 gives users an experience closer to desktop applications
than the traditional static Web pages.”
From a user’s
perspective, Web 2.0 may be thought of as a collection of web-based
information services that includes blogs, wikis, web-based office
suites, and a few other emerging technologies. Blogs (short for
web logs) have been around for years. To those who are not yet
familiar with them, blogs are generally frequently updated with
short posts on a variety of topics, often allowing readers to
comment, link to posts, and subscribe to news feeds. Initially
akin to personal journals, blogs have been increasingly adopted
by news media and corporate communications departments as yet
another way to interact with users. For an introduction to what
they can do for professionals, see “Blogging 101 for CPAs”
in the July 2005 CPA Journal. Popular blogging service
providers include Blogger (www.blogger.com/)
and TypePad (www.typepad.com/).
says wikis are going to be big. If blogs have become popular places
to disseminate and collect information, just as regular webpages
did in Web 1.0, wikis may have the potential to challenge e-mail
as a communication platform for individuals and organizations.
A wiki tracks online discussions among users and allows all content
and changes to be archived and reviewed. Instead of sending “FYI”
e-mails to user groups, companies can store and post information
in a wiki for their employees to view and comment on. More important,
a wiki can become a forum for people to exchange ideas and collaborate.
A wiki can be used to define, manage, and then archive projects.
Working groups can use a wiki as a centralized online point to
brainstorm and make plans, track project progress, find out meeting
schedules, and create documentation.
A wiki can
also be used as a platform to communicate with clients and business
partners. Instead of e-mailing or calling clients, a CPA could
invite them to participate in a wiki set up to share ideas and
concerns about a specific project. A wiki can allow a closer,
more interactive, and timelier relationship with clients. Anyone
who has used Google Mail’s “talk and label”
features already has some firsthand experience with wiki features.
These sites can help beginners start a wiki: www.pbwiki.com and
office suites such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets (docs.google.com)
and Zoho (www.zoho.com)
are the counterparts of desktop office applications such as Microsoft
Office. These web-based applications provide strong collaboration,
convenient access to documents, powerful version control, and
easy online communication:
collaboration: Using an online office suite, a team can review,
edit, and comment on the same document simultaneously from different
locations. There aren’t different versions circulating;
every change or comment is preserved on the hosting web server.
The team leader uploads or starts the document, grants access
to other team members, and stays on top of the changes and comments.
accessibility: Because online office suites store files on web
servers, documents can be accessed from anywhere. Users don’t
have to carry around storage media or a laptop, or worry about
the synchronization of multiple copies of a document or spreadsheet.
This is particularly appealing for professionals working on
multiple computers from multiple locations.
control on documents: Online office suites use version control
to track changes on documents. For instance, Google Docs keeps
all versions of the edits and comments and provides tools to
compare the differences between versions. Users can roll back
a document to a previous point in time and check who made changes.
online communication: All online office suites allow users to
initiate team writing via e-mail. Each product may provide unique
features. For example, Google Docs and Zoho allow users to send
a document to various devices, such as a personal data assistant
(PDA) or cellphone. Google Spreadsheets allows multiple users
to chat through instant messages when they are working on the
same spreadsheet simultaneously. Additionally, all online office
suites come with tools to publish documents on websites or blogs.
and services in Web 2.0 technologies reach millions of users via
an open and scalable platform: the Internet. Web 2.0 services
are particularly appealing to small accounting firms because they
cost only a fraction of what commercially designed software for
large accounting firms costs. Some tools are even free. CPAs can
take advantage of Web 2.0 in the following three areas: 1) work
collaboration; 2) information dissemination and sharing; and 3)
information syndication. Some Web 2.0 services integrate these
functions into one application to provide solutions to content
collaboration: Consider this example to illustrate how Web 2.0
technologies can be used for work collaboration. A CPA working
on a project for a client starts a wiki to plan the project
and use it as a platform to communicate among team members and
the client. The team uses the wiki to schedule meetings, inform
each other with updates, and discuss approaches to problems.
The team also shares the project information with the client
at the wiki and lets the client come to the wiki to track the
project progress and participate in development. When it comes
to preparing documents for the project, the team collaborates
by using Zoho Writer to draft word-processing files, Zoho Sheet
to perform common spreadsheet functions, and Zoho Show to put
together presentations. All of the files are hosted at the Zoho
website, where team members (and the client) log in to edit
and review. Team members can accomplish all of these at any
time or place, whether in the office, at a client’s location,
or at home; all that is needed is Internet access to the wiki
and to an online office suite’s website.
dissemination and sharing: Web 2.0 also provides a platform
for information sharing and communication at a distance. A typical
example is blogging. The interaction, focus, and in-depth discussion
of blogs go beyond the functions provided by traditional websites.
Blog-hosting services make it easier for beginners to start
their own blogs with all the expected functionality. “Blogging
101 for CPAs” (July 2005 CPA Journal) summarized
several helpful blogs for up-to-date accounting information.
For example, “The Analyst’s Accounting Observer
blog/) keeps up with accounting issues in the news. For
those who need help on spreadsheet or accounting applications,
“Daily Dose of Excel” (www.dicksblog.com/)
provides hands-on tips. Other popular accounting blogs include:
“The CFO Blog” (www.cfo.com/blogs/?f=
header) for general financial accounting issues, “CPA
for CPAs’ interests, and “Inside Sarbanes-Oxley”
for internal auditing matters.
syndication: RSS (really simple syndication) is a major aggregator
technology that can be used to pull pieces of information together.
describes RSS as “a family of Web feed formats used to
publish frequently updated digital content, such as blogs, news
feeds or podcasts.” By using RSS, users can instantly
have data feeds from several syndicated sources collected, grouped,
and stored in one place. The ability to instantly syndicate
data is particularly attractive for mobile workers. Even though
this technology has so far focused mostly on text content from
news feeds and blogs, there are no technical barriers to using
this technology with databases and other information sources.
on the Profession
may not pay a lot of attention to gaming-style user interfaces
on webpages; or those fun websites for making and sharing music,
videos, and pictures; or the innovative software developments
that feature open-source, perpetual beta versions, and heavy user
involvement in development. They may not follow the “cool”
Web 2.0 stuff that mainly entertains the younger generation and
provides some convenience to people’s everyday lives (e.g.,
Nevertheless, the following characteristics of Web 2.0 will have
a fundamental impact on the accounting profession:
information systems are becoming more complex than ever because
companies are integrating business applications from multiple
and varied systems. Data are generated and integrated from numerous
sources. Users become major contributors to data, which is generally
unique and hard to recreate. To use a Web 2.0 term, businesses
are increasingly “mashing up” applications and data
to provide easier access and better information to users. For
example, many companies’ information systems have already
integrated data from their own ERP systems, their vendors’
systems, and their customers’ feedback
- The World
Wide Web is being used as a platform to collaborate and share
information in many new ways. Web applications are becoming
a forum to discuss problems, contribute ideas, and provide solutions.
These web services have become useful and popular because they
enable people to connect to each other; and the benefits of
this network effect grow even more powerful when more people
will experience a new kind of web with much improved user-interfaces.
Instead of hyperlinked pages that require shuffling from page
to page, pop-up windows will show detailed information and disappear
when no longer needed. Improved user-interfaces rely on a group
XML) that allows the web browsers to get and display data more
Why do all
of these new developments matter? There are two reasons. First,
companies are changing the way they do business using Web 2.0–based
technologies. Because corporate information systems combine business
applications and integrate data from a variety of resources, both
internal and external, auditors will have to deal with much more
complex information systems in order to assess system reliability
and assure information accuracy. Second, accounting professionals
can use new Web 2.0 technologies to exchange ideas, share information,
and communicate with clients and colleagues.
Cong, PhD, is an assistant professor in the department
of accounting at Towson University, Towson, Md. Hui Du,
PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting in the department
of accounting and business law, college of business administration,
at the University of Texas–Pan American, Edinburg, Texas.