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Crowdsourcing in the 21st Century

Joanne S. Barry, CAE

The Internet turned 25 last month, and although we often spend anniversaries collectively trying to gain perspective on the past by comparing it to the present, this particular milestone puts into perspective the present in relation to the future—specifically, where exactly is technology taking us? If technology could completely reshape our lives and the processes by which we work and live in just these past 25 years, how will we be living, working, and communicating with one another 25 years from now?

Whether we love it or resent it (most likely a little bit of both), this age of connectivity has, at an awesome pace, changed not only the accessibility of information, but also—and perhaps most markedly—the way content available online is produced and shared. Instead of information generated and produced top-down from traditional institutions, such as governments and corporations, the Internet gives us the ability to create communities and bring about change from the bottom up. Geography, age, gender, and socioeconomic boundaries disappear on the Internet, and this provides a platform for crowdsourcing, allowing anyone with an idea and an Internet connection to share intellectual property or to ask others to share theirs.

Exchanging Information and Ideas

If you are a stranger to crowdsourcing (or think that you are), you might want to reconsider your perspective. The NYSSCPA has had a social media presence on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook for years, but we also just recently launched the Exchange, our very own social media platform that is free and available only to Society members. As of the end of last month, 2,700 members had logged onto the Exchange, and hundreds had already posted in the Open Forum.

Many of our tax practitioner members are already recognizing the value of the Exchange by crowdsourcing answers to their technical questions. Members who pose questions in the Open Forum (an Exchange group open to all 28,000-plus members) might receive an answer or multiple answers from several members. If that happens, that member just participated in crowdsourcing. More than one Exchange participant has, after receiving thorough and helpful responses to their technical question, stated that the Exchange itself is worth the cost of membership. I encourage you to log on to the Exchange, at http://exchange.nysscpa.org/home, and see for yourself the conversations that are happening there.

Of course, crowdsourcing is really just a new name for what NYSSCPA committees and chapters have been doing for decades—encouraging the seeking and sharing of professional knowledge in a collaborative way. And while the Exchange is clearly becoming a valuable communication tool for members, the Society continues to develop new programming so that members can also stay connected the old-fashioned way: in person. For example, we recently launched our Members in Transition program for New York CPAs in the middle of a job search or about to begin one. These are the members who are most in need of new connections, so we've coordinated free networking seminars with recruiters in order to give members entering the job market an opportunity to refresh their interviewing and résumédrafting skills.

Staying Connected

More and more businesses and other organizations are seeing value in staff collaboration; they are trying to measure and increase engagement with their clients, customers, and employees. Essentially, the Internet provides to the rest of the world what professional associations have always offered their members—the opportunity to stay connected through alternative means, outside their local professional community and outside their places of business. I don't know where technology will take us in the next 25 years, but I do know that the NYSSCPA will leverage existing tools, and even some that might not exist yet, to allow members to collaborate with, engage with, and learn from each other. That is something that will never change.

Joanne S. Barry, CAE. Publisher. The CPA Journal, Executive Director & CEO, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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