The rise of cloud computing, netbooks and the iPhone are causing a pretty major shift in the way people live and work. With your data in the cloud and devices to access it anywhere, anytime you suddenly have exponentially greater access to everything. It's genuinely changing the way we think and behave.

A quick primer on cloud computing

Think of cloud computing like this: the web is now a computer and your device (phone, netbook, laptop, etc) is just a peripheral that's attached to this cloud computer.

The web used to be a way of retrieving published information. Now it stores and crunches your data, manipulating and transforming it, meshing it with other people's data to create something exponentially more valuable.

Software developers use web services for storage and computational processing the same way that in the past they used an installed OS running on a desktop computer. Now the OS and computer "chips" are distributed all across the internet.

In addition, web apps exchange data securely with other apps and systems, so your data is highly portable - it can float in the cloud and you don't really care where it is; it's everywhere, whenever and wherever you need it.

Fascinating. So what?

This is truly transforming our concept of time and space, along with our relationships to people, places and things. The tyranny of time and distance has shrunken even more than just email and the web have already shrunken them.

Cloud computing breaks us free from being locked to a specific location and a specific device. Our data and our access to people, places and things is suddenly with us all the time, everywhere we go. We are much more aware and connected to who and what's around us at any given moment: past, present, and future.

This is happening on both a micro and macro scale. You can be aware of what the person sitting next to you is thinking right now and what all their friends think of that. You can know what your friend from primary school (who lives on the other side of the planet) has scheduled to do tomorrow, and even how many 3 starred organic vegan restaurants are within 100 meters of where you're standing.

Are you on the radar?

So what does this mean for your business? Be on the radar. You have more opportunities to connect with more people, more frequently. Make people aware of your business and what you're doing. Listen for opportunities to help other people out. Ask for help and guidance. Participate and contribute something useful to the discussion. Have a play and have fun discovering what?s happening around you.

Here are a few specific apps to try, if you don't already use them:

- Twitter - go to and put in your company name, then your competitors? names. Find people you know, follow them, then jump in with your own tweets.

- LinkedIn - It's your online CV and rolodex. It's a great way to connect with old business colleagues, make new connections, plus give/get business advice. Maybe even create a group page for your business.

- Google Maps - find your business on the map and customize your listing.

- Facebook - this is more personal than business. But business is all about who you know. Let people know what you're up to. Listen to what your friends are doing. Maybe even create a group page for your business.

Another thing you should do: put it in your pocket. Use all of these web apps on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre or similar device.

Don't have one? Seriously consider getting one. It makes it much easier to stay on the radar, be in the loop and know where everything is going. A laptop or even a netbook does not fit in your pocket, so you don't have it on you everywhere, all the time.

The new generation of smartphones is way more personal than the ?personal computer? ever was. The combination of the iPhone and the AppStore have heralded in a truly revolutionary platform that is changing everything. Having one will change your business for the better.

This post by Philip Fierlinger is part of the Xero Conversations sponsored forum, brought to you by Xero.