The Internet service provider's declining fortunes may serve as a cautionary tale, but redemption isn't out of the question

In 1985, the same year Quantum Computer Services (now AOL) was incorporated, the film "Brewster's Millions" hit theaters. In a nutshell, the film follows the folly of a man given US$ 30 million with a mandate to make it disappear in 30 days with nothing to show in its place; plus he can't tell anyone what he's doing. The symbolism shouldn't be lost on anyone familiar with the story of AOL. (Conspiracy theories have emerged detailing how parent company Time Warner may be secretly scuttling AOL in an attempt to screw Google.)

The fine details of AOL's afflictions will not be re-re-re-re-counted here except to say that the company went from being worth around $200 billion in 2001 to an estimated $20 billion today. (AOL values based on estimate and raw guess partly attributed to Google's purchase of five percent of AOL for $1 billion.) It's like the US becoming as economically powerful as Spain by 2011, or similar in dramatic plummet to Britney Spears' Q rating. From its high of over 30 million subscribers, AOL now claims somewhere under 19M; it estimates a loss of another six million within the year. And it gets worse.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.