Rat has advice for AOL's big cheese

America Online Inc. was the Rat's hometown hero at one point, but lately he has been unable to muster much sympathy for the former master of the universe. He's far too fascinated by the goings-on in that Internet shotgun marriage, AOL Time Warner Inc.

'It's the ultimate in reality programming,' he told his spouse while he watched CNBC and flipped cottage-cheese pancakes. 'CBS should film it as 'Survivor V: Wall Street.' '

Former AOL chief operating officer Robert 'Online Advertising is the Future' Pittman is the latest so far to get voted off the island-- Manhattan Island, that is. The cyberrodent sent him a sympathy note: an e-book version of Who Moved My Cheese? and a link to MonsterJobs.com.

'Maybe there'll be an opening for him at the Homeland Security Department when it opens,' Mrs. Rat suggested. 'He's got experience in spending billions without any oversight.'

In some ways, the cyberrodent found the precipitous decline of the mother-of-all-media-mergers rather heartwarming.

'WorldCom Inc. may be bankrupt and Enron Corp. may be toast,' he opined, 'but it takes real skill to drop a company's value by a couple hundred billion without any accounting scandal. It's good to know that you can still be grossly incompetent in this country without getting arrested.'

'Maybe they should change that AOL voice greeting to 'You've got maul,' ' his wife grinned as she grated Parmesan over her pancakes.

'Well, Pittman is gone, and AOL chairman Steve Case seems to be gone, too, or at least mentally checked out. That leaves the old-media guys who survived the merger to pick up the pieces-- and unload as many of them as possible,' the wired one said.

What with AOL looking to spin off its cable business and find other ways to make debt disappear without hiring Arthur Andersen, the Rat knows just the steps that the company needs to take to get out of the red.

* One: Stop mailing those AOL CDs. 'No one's using them except as coasters, Christmas ornaments and for indoor skeet shooting,' the wirebiter shrugged. 'CD cessation could save AOL at least $15 or $20 a year.'

* Two: Fire the 'You've Got Mail!' guy. 'His residuals must be huge,' the Rat calculated. 'It's time for a fresh voice-- one that's with the times and instills a sense of comfort and security.' Attorney general John Ashcroft immediately came to mind. Maybe he could sing the tune.

* Three: Lower the cost of producing those stodgy old media formats by stealing-- er, repurposing material from new media. 'The 'You've Got Mail' movie was a good start,' he decided. 'The next film should feature people reading AOL Instant Messenger sessions aloud, and AOL could replace the articles in 'People' magazine with AOL members' fan Web sites. I bet no one would notice the difference.'

* Four: Extend existing brands online. Five words says it all: a 24-hour Connie Chung webcam.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].

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