Tom Hood leaped into the next generation when he started CPA Island, a virtual land in a 3-D world called Second Life. Hood has served as the executive director and CEO of the Maryland Society of CPAs since 1997 and is striving to connect members of the American Institute of CPAs through some of the latest technology including YouTube videos, MySpace, podcasts and blogs to attract the next generation of accountants who are interacting with those tools and to establish a sense of community among existing accountants.
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Hood spoke about his journey from the pre-Internet age to Second Life, where he appears in a purple suit as an avatar named Rocky Maddaloni.
How did you get into accounting and technology?
I wanted to be an FBI agent. The best way to find criminals is to chase the money. But I found out my eyesight was too bad, so I had to figure out how to make a living as an accountant. I joined the Maryland society and the AICPA and got signed up for the electronic data processing and word processing committee. That became the computer resources committee; then we created one of the first computer labs in the industry.
How has the Internet changed things?
When I first joined, the committee, we were information brokers pulling resources, so [it] scared the heck out of me and some of my colleagues. California invested around $700,000 in the Internet, and we had an estimate of about half a million. Every time we pulled the numbers together, we couldn’t figure out where there was an economic benefit to justify the cost.
Why did you branch into Web 2.0 technologies?
About two years ago, we started reading about blogs and hired a blogging coach who taught us about RSS, podcasts and Flicker for photos. Cpasuccess.com was our first blog, and then we launched one called newcpas.com. Then we began podcasting and photo sharing pictures from our events.
What is CPA Island and how did it get started?
My 13-year-old plays with kids in England, Australia and Korea through multiplayer games that allow them to join groups to work on quests and challenges. It’s all about social networking, which is what associations are about. I went to my oldest son, who was a senior in high school and an advanced placement computer kid going to become an accounting major.
I said, ‘If you can figure out Second Life, I’m going to hire you as an intern.’ In no time, he had figured it out and we rented a little piece of land and a building he called New Young Professional Chillin’ Grounds. That was our entry.
Talk about some of the hot new ideas you’ve tried.
We did live CPE at our expo in June. It was a mixed-reality event—half live and half virtual. One of the comments was, ‘I felt like I was at a real conference, and I loved it.’ Another was, 'I'm much more adventurous than I thought.’ One avatar came as a dragon. People can be goofy, but culturally your prejudices disappear. You listen to them at face value.
How is the younger generation responding to CPA Island?
They’re not all gaming yet. About 200 colleges have set up campuses [on Second Life]. We built an educators’ pavilion. Our theory was if we could connect to the accounting educators, we’ll get the students when they start to show up. We found some cool educators doing neat stuff.
One takes his class “on a tour” of Ben and Jerry’s Second Life factory and teaches them about inventory and process accounting. We’re giving away kiosks, so educators have a place if their colleges don’t.
Our two-year investment is about $12,000, including our intern. The annual cost will be about $3,000 a year for the server maintenance on our two islands, plus any other development we do. That doesn’t include the time people are spending, but the people on our team are energized and excited by it.