JOIN THE REVOLUTION
An information revolution is occurring, one that profoundly affects CPAs. It frees information from paper and puts it where it is needed most-on the screens of computer users. At the heart of this revolution is the World Wide Web (the Web), a medium that brings a vast wealth of information to your computer screen. This article guides you down some of the many avenues you can travel on your computer: the Internet, the Web, AICPA Online (the American Institute of CPAs Web site) and the AICPA Accountants Forum.
The Internet . The Internet is a public communications system; not owned by any entity, it is universally accessible and unregulated. It is a worldwide network of computers that communicate with each other over phone lines and fiber optic cables. The Internet itself is free. However, access to the Internet involves some costs, either what it costs you to build your own access or the fees you pay an Internet service provider (ISP) for access. The Internet is a very valuable tool for CPAs, enabling them to access business information from all corners of the earth. It provides CPAs with Securities and Exchange Commission filings, professional news, state CPA society information, Internal Revenue Service information, software downloads, university research materials, currency exchange rates and legislative proceedings, just to name a few items available from this vast interactive library. Not only are these materials easily accessible from your computer but also they are free and available any hour of the day or night-and the volume keeps growing every day.
The World Wide Web. The Web is a part of the Internet (Internet and Web are terms used interchangeably here). It is a communications network in which users exchange text, graphics, databases and video. Users can create their own sites that other users can tap into to share data. Many users of the Web employ an ISP, such as Netcom or AT&T's Worldnet, to access the Internet. An ISP usually charges around $20 per month for unlimited access and often provides its customers with browsers.
AICPA Online. AICPA Online, the AICPA's Web site on the Internet, provides a wealth of information to the entire accounting profession. The Web enables the AICPA to deliver it electronically, 24 hours a day, to CPAs everywhere. You will find membership applications, dues schedules, daily accounting news alerts, AICPA press releases, exposure drafts, comment letters, AICPA team FAQs (frequently asked questions), state society addresses, phone and fax numbers and information for contacts, the member outreach contact list with e-mail links, the CPA Letter (available 10 days before the print version), selected articles from the Journal of Accountancy , links to other accounting and financial Internet resources, affinity program information and telephone numbers and feedback forms to send messages to specific AICPA teams.
Accountants Forum. The Accountants Forum is sponsored by the AICPA on the CompuServe network. (See "Accountants Forum Users' Manual: Lesson 1," JofA, Sept.95 and "Accountants Forum Users' Manual: Lesson 2," JofA, Dec.95) CompuServe is a proprietary online service provider that bills subscribers $9.95 per month for unlimited basic services and $2.95 per hour for the Accountants Forum and all other extended services. CompuServe is not the same as an ISP; it is an online service provider that sells access to its own private CompuServe network. When you become a member of CompuServe, you gain access to thousands of user-supported forums in which you can communicate with your colleagues-such as in the Accountants Forum message sections-and where individuals can post questions. All of the private networks, such as CompuServe, American Online and Prodigy, provide their users with access to the Internet. Members of CompuServe can click on GO AICPA (the green traffic light icon) to visit the Accountants Forum. For CompuServe subscriptions, call 1-800-849-8199 and ask for the AICPA package.
WHAT THE INTERNET OFFERS TO CPAs
Through the Internet CPAs have a new way to communicate with clients: They can deliver information via e-mail, file tax returns and SEC forms electronically and create new services that can be delivered by computer (for an example, see "Small Firms Can Do Big Business Online," JofA, Oct.96). The Internet also enables CPAs to get information faster than before.
A number of technological advances have transformed the Web into a rapidly expanding communications medium with profound implications for CPAs and other professionals. The Web provides CPAs with new ways to market their services. A Web site is like a sales brochure that is never out-of-date. The Web site's owner can update information instantly whenever he or she wants.
ROAMING THROUGH THE WEB
One reason the Web has become so popular is its advanced navigation features. One of them-e-mail-saves users time and money when sending messages and files to other Internet users. Users can send e-mail messages and files to anyone with a computer quickly-and at little cost.
A second reason for the popularity of the Web is that information on it is easy to find and retrieve. The massive amount of content on the Web can be found by using search engines. The engines are available on the Web for free, and they enable you to locate the topics of your choice. A search engine is actually a Web site. The site has keyword lists of most Internet sites. When you use a search engine, you enter keywords on the topic you are seeking, such as tax forms or IRS regulations. After entering the keywords and clicking on the "Search" or "Submit" button, you are presented with a list of Web sites that contain the keywords. For a complete list of search engines, visit www.search.com. For instance, when searching for "currency exchange rates" with Digital's Alta Vista search engine ( http://altavista.digital.com ), you can find a variety of useful sites that provide the current exchange rate for worldwide currencies. Alta Vista's Web pages, as well as those on most other Web sites, employ hyperlinks extensively. Hyperlinks connect you to the referenced material simply by a click of the mouse on the word or icon. Initially, all text hyperlinks are highlighted in blue on the Internet. When the cursor touches a hyperlink, it changes into the picture of a hand.
SETTING UP THE GEAR
Once you have collected your equipment and selected an ISP (you can find a complete list of ISPs at www.thelist.com), setting up your computer to use the Web is a relatively simple affair. First, install the Internet access software your ISP or online service provider has provided, following the provider's directions. The software will include a browser. The software setup varies according to the provider. Generally, the software comes with step-by-step instructions for installation.
With your equipment set up and the software installed, it is time to visit a Web site-in this case, AICPA Online. As with most Internet addresses, you must type in the URL exactly as it appears, keeping in mind that the final period is not part of the address. Your computer will connect to your ISP's computer, which will connect to the AICPA Online server and bring the AICPA home page to your computer. Hyperlinks are used extensively on AICPA Online to help visitors easily navigate the site as well as to send e-mail to the various AICPA teams. The following steps will lead you into the World Wide Web.
For this lesson we are using Microsoft Internet Explorer browser, available free of charge at http://www.microsoft.com . Follow downloading instructions at the Web site.
Open your browser by double clicking on the "Internet Explorer" icon and typing in http://www.aicpa. org. Be patient on your first visit to the AICPA home page; it might take 10 or more seconds to load the page. The second time you visit the site it will load much faster. Click once on the "News Flash!" hyperlink in the "Start Here" line.
The "News Flash!" section contains late-breaking accounting-related news; this section is updated daily during the business week.
HOW TO FIND MATERIAL ON AICPA ONLINE
Another way to find a subject is by using a keyword search to locate specific words or terms used in AICPA Online documents. To do a keyword search, click on the search site icon at the top right corner of all pages (except the home page, where it is called "Search" in the "Start Here" line).
When you click on the "Search" icon, the next page will be displayed, which will have a field (a blank box) with a "Search AICPA Online" button. Enter your keyword or words in the field and click on the "Search AICPA Online" button.
For some practice in doing a keyword search, click on the "Search Site" icon and type in the words "CPA Letter." The search engine will search all the pages of AICPA Online for them; that's more than 1500 pages, so it will take some time to do it.
When the search is finished, the "Search Results" page will appear with a list of hyperlinks to all documents containing the keywords. The documents with the most occurrences of the keywords will head the list; the one with the least will be last. Click on the first link at the top of the list; it will bring to the screen a CPA Letter article from the September 1996 issue titled "Keep Profiles Current to Receive Correct CPA Letter Supplement ." Note: The content of AICPA Online is updated daily. Do not be concerned, therefore, if the results of your search do not match the results in this article.
If you would like to go beyond AICPA Online and search the Internet, click on your browser's "back" button in the top left corner of your screen to return to the "Search the Internet" page. On this page are other hyperlinks below the AICPA "Search Site" page. These link to the most popular search engines on the Internet. Another place from which to start a search is http://www. search.com , which has the most comprehensive list of search engines available on the Internet.
A ONE-STOP INTERNET RESOURCE
The goal of AICPA Online is to be the resource where CPAs retrieve current accounting information, ask accounting-related questions, exchange ideas and learn about technology. Whenever visiting AICPA Online, first check the "What's New" section to find information that has been added since your last visit. The "What's New" hyperlink is located on the AICPA home page. AICPA Online employs the Web to assist AICPA members, state CPA societies and the accounting profession with managing the information revolution by constantly updating information about professional issues and technology, news, press releases, state CPA society and state board information, speeches, exposure drafts, AICPA publications, databases and more.
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