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AOL's volunteergate swings wide open

My sources tell me that AOL's faithful volunteers have been leaving in droves after losing the privilege of free access.

    Back in the Great DuPression when Grandma DuBaud ran a soup kitchen on Quebec City's skid row, she was good to her volunteers. Every last one of her bleeding-heart ladle jockeys got a steaming portion of make-do hybrids such as Notre bouillabaisse shoelaise or le beef jerky aux echalotes confites. My eyes and mouth water just thinking about it.

    Sadly, those days of pro bono bon appetit are over--at least at online giant America Online. My sources tell me that AOL's faithful volunteers have been leaving in droves after losing the privilege of free access. Even more dramatic than this mass exodus has been the manner in which AOL brass have dealt with internal dissent--namely, toasting the accounts of two who spoke out against the cost-cutting measure, according to the scuttlebutt. The latest miscreant in the company's crosshairs is reputed to be a 14-year-old. Oh, AOL, j'accuse!

    "But Skinny," you're no doubt saying, "this is the tech industry--we've got to raise the bad management bar even higher!" Can do, mon frere: Another AOL Skinformer whispers that the company missed its FY '97 advertising sales goal of $47 million by a stretch, eventually clocking in around the $40 million mark. Happens all the time, you say? Hold on there. What sets AOL apart is its lofty (some would say DuLusional) response to this missed goal, namely that in 1998 ad revenues must total not $50, not $100, but a whopping $200 million, according to my mole. Bravo, hale Virginians!

    According to this new Pittman math, if the company can only sell $30 million in ads this year, the goal next year should be up near the $1 billion mark.

    Dreaming of e-commerce sheep, picture this strange-but-true scene: eminent SET (Secure Electronic Transactions) expert Larry Loeb settles into his seat while Visa's senior VP Steve Herz starts his presentation at last week's "Promise of SET" event in San Francisco. Sixty seconds go by, and boom! Larry nods off and saws some serious wood, observers report--along with the rest of us waiting for the SET standard to emerge. I thought e-commerce was supposed to make us all wired, not tired.

    Whether it's digital or filthy green analog, take heart that B-Gates's $30-something billion can't buy him everything and certainly not spell-check software for his ad people, it seems. For example, were you to visit a certain Microsoft ad in the search box on the NY Times Syndicate's site, you would see the following text: "You've been through the learning curve. Now take the straigthaway [sic] with the new Internet Information Server 4.0." "Straigthaway?" How do you want to spell today? Do I have to spell it out? Send me a r-u-m-o-r straight away and I'll put in a good word for you.