Focus on: AOL

Where is AOL Today?
Those dark days seem hard to get over for AOL- -news yesterday that the parent company is auditing AOL Europe suggests that the SEC probe–which became public about two years ago–is still dragging on. This means that Time Warner’s hopes of spinning off AOL ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
On another note, TW vice chairman Don Logan, told analysts that AOL.com is going to be built out–much like Netscape was supposed to be back in 2001–as an a la carte destination for web surfers. This strategy, long a favorite of AOL Programming EVP Jim Bankoff (disclosure: I worked for him) runs parallel–and is presumably complementary–to AOL Broadband’s focus on developing premium entertainment services–reportedly the core vision for AOL Broadband EVP and GM (and former BMG powerhouse) Kevin Conroy.
Finally press reports that AOL’s dial-up subs continue to tank, even as the online advertising business rebounds. For the first time in three years, AOL’s ad sales have increased, rising 23% per cent, with a 2% revenue growth, for a total $2.2B number.
Staffers continually say things are getting better, and “we’re turning the big ship around.” Given the dark days of 2002 and 03, that’s gotta be true. Furthermore, as a one-stop shop AOL is without peer, and it’s virus-checking qualities have kept me on its email system long beyond when it otherwise made sense.
On the other hand. AOL will need to continue to leverage its huge size and still-impressive audience reach to avoid falling into the big tail/little brain universe known as too-little, too late. 
What should they do? 
IMHO, to avoid being fodder  for the (next) corporate write-down, the company needs to continue to streamline the service, bring some fresh viewpoints into the news partnership (hey,   CNN is teaming with Technorati–why didn’t AOL News try something different this year?), and continue to simplify and streamline their offerings–finding the good stuff that isn’t promotion of the day is STILL a major challenge.
If I ran the circus I’d: 
— Keep improving news: Use Technorati Feedster and PubSub like tools to add a Vox Populi element to the news coverage and the member comments;
–Team up with Topix.net to offer micro-local news and blog content for AOL.com, the My services, and the Digital Cities brands
–Create a strategy to integrate ecommerce referral for major AOL partner brands into the blogging, home page, photo album and community tools–and tie to it to the  member incentives and loyalty programs
–Develop a blogging/social media strategy tied to the wonderful broadband entertainment/sports coverage–and the community tools/member base.
–See how all these programs could be repurposed on the web to make AOL.com a destination competitive with Yahoo, MSN, MSNBC.com, Google/ Blogger/ Gmail, and so on.
 
(Disclosure: Sound impassioned? Worked there for almost 4 years, was a biz partner for 8, and admire the great number of really smart , nice people working their tails off there now despite the (sometimes)horrendous corporate culture.)