The Next Big Thing

our customers,” Rogers says.

Quicken has long led the way in developing technology that helps consumers get into a financial comfort zone. And Wesabe reinvented networking for the financial space (see Techwatch, January 2008). But social networking, the Web 2.0 phenomenon that hit its stride last year when Microsoft staked a $240 million claim in Facebook, is finally making its way to the business side. LinkedIn has pretty much cornered the market, boasting more than 25 million professionals as users.

Where does social networking go from here? The latest buzz is about Twitter, a social hotspot with a wide range of users looking for quick connections, industry news, and chatter. The Obama campaign, which virtually redefined politics through the use of social media, followed more than 90,000 “tweeters,” sending them daily campaign announcements and news. Adobe has even developed TweetDeck, a beta application which lets users organize and manage their Twitter feeds. You can also opt to receive mobile tweets from Twitter.com. But for those who consider themselves creators, Ning and KickApps let users develop their own networking sites.

What does the future hold for social networking? BluePulse.com pointed the way when it took social networking mobile. Facebook also went mobile. Now, think geo-social networking such as The Carbon Project, which combines mobile social networking with location-based services geared at businesses and social spaces.

Careers

When Sydni Craig-Hart decided to leave her “perfect job” three years ago, she had no idea what was in store. As an executive assistant at the Washington, D.C-based private equity firm Carlyle Group, she had worked for a boss who traveled constantly, which meant she had to be available whenever he needed her. And while she loved her job, she didn’t like her schedule or the commute to D.C. from Arlington, Virginia.

“One day, I just asked myself, ‘Why am I dragging into the office at these ungodly hours to work?’” says Craig-Hart, 31. She asked her boss if she could work from home, and surprisingly, he said yes. So, outfitted with a BlackBerry and a laptop, she went virtual.

After two years, she decided to launch Craig-Hart Consulting L.L.C., a small-business consultancy and Internet marketing strategy firm based in Emeryville, California. She has seven retainer clients in addition to project work. And now Craig-Hart has her own virtual assistant.

In 2001, when be first reported on an emerging work phenomenon known as virtual assistance, there were questions—in addition to the requisite jokes about pajamas and bunny slippers. What, after all, was a virtual assistant? And those looking for an alternative to the 9-to-5-plus grind of administrative work found the prospect shaky, at best. Flash forward another four years, when be revisited a more mature industry and outlined the necessary steps needed to enter the exploding field (“Small Office/Home Office,” November 2005).

So what’s changed since then? Lots, says Craig-Hart. The industry has grown tremendously in the last three years because of high-speed connections, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, mobile technology, Web-based applications, and handheld devices. But more important, admins now have

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