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Mega-ISP Update: Layoffs At AOL, Voices At MSN 186

rfc1394 writes: "There are two articles, the first article, in today's Washington Post, mentioned that AOL, having successfully digested Time Warner, is producing results of that digestion by additionally extruding almost 1,000 people in layoffs due to an anemic advertising market and a need to meet projected revenue goals of about $40 billion. A separate Post article mentions how Microsoft's online service MSN is having a woman named Shelley Reynolds create a series of spoken identifiers for its online service similar to AOL's famous 'You've got mail!' and identifies El Edwards as the man who is the voice behind the phrase. The second article also tells about the effect of sound on people with respect to technology, and the payments involved (Edwards reportedly got about $100; Reynolds will receive something under six figures.)"
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Mega-ISP Update: Layoffs At AOL, Voices At MSN

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  • It is a sick world when companies layoff people like they are a social security number and not a person. Consumers are the very people we employ. When you layoff your employees, you lose them as a consumer as well. The economy crashes because of these companies. How do you expect people to spend more when you are laying them off. Do the math.
  • extruding almost 1,000 people in layoffs due to an anemic advertising market and a need to meet projected revenue goals of about $40 billion

    Does getting rid of workers increase *revenue*?
    • Someone screwed up. They're firing to increase PROFITS, not revenue. CNN had this a day or so ago. LEss payroll = more profit.
      • The earlier poster just grazed the surface of this issue. A key financial percentage that analysts like to look at is revenue or'Earnings per Employee' as an indicator of employee productivity as it reflects good management practices and corporate health.

        The issue is not how many employees are being laid off, but what services are being outsourced. Oursourcing services such as call centers and HR, as well as IT infastructure management, etc. look on paper the same as layoffs, in that such outsourcing reduces the number of 'Regular Fulltime Employees' thus improving the revenue percentage shown as Earnings per Employee. This is a common practice and we shouldn't be suprised that AOL is making use of them.

      • Its what you call stock value manipulation. Basically you fire people to make the profits seem larger and hence get high stock value. From I understand CISCO tried the same thing and it back fired on them, ie the stock value still took a hit. This is one of the problems with public companies, and probably the reason it can go bad after the IPO, since they concentrate on stock value instead of the product.
        • You've just stated the biggest problem with shareholder capitalism as it is practiced today. We are only beginning to catch the fallout from this - there will be virtually no value in making long-term strategic goals if Boards of Directors are controlled by stock holders (usually fund managers) who have no stake in what happens after the current quarter. And it all becomes a numbers game.

          During the boom, even companies that didn't want to grow (that is, wanted to build up existing markets instead of trying to rush into new ones and buy companies, etc.) were pretty much forced into it by shareholder expectations. And now shareholder expectations are working the other way - even solvent companies with working business models are compelled to cut back spending and lay people off, just because that's what "analysts" want to see.

          And it will only get worse.

          • This assumes, of course, that all the stockholders (in aggregate) care about is the results in the current quarter.

            The dotbomb's stock prices were based largely upon speculation. You can't tell me that, a dotcom with P/E ratios in the thousands had stock prices based on the latest quarter's earnings. In these cases, during the "boom," shareholders (again in aggregate) were willing to forego current income in exchange for potential future market dominance.

            It's a double-edged sword. If you have a killer plan, but can't get anything going in the near term, why should I invest my money with you? Similarly, if you've got your current market covered, but have no plans for growth in the future, why should anyone new invest?

            In the latter case, what happens when your current market disappears (and it will)? You've got no company, and my stock is worth zilch.

            A viable company has to have both a current value proposition, and a speculative function operating simultaneously, and the market will reward both.
    • and even better, this came after AOL denied the "rumor" that layoffs were coming.

      that story is at the register [].


    • Yes, they first thought they could get more revenue from dropping marketing. But when that failed, they needed to lay off more people.
    • Less employees means less payroll and benefits to pay out, which means more cash you get to keep for yourself. So how do you make up for the lost manhours:

      • Make your remaining employees work harder to pick up the slack. You may have to pay a little more in overtime, but it is cheaper than paying a full salary and benefits.
      • Find cheaper labor to do the same job. There are a couple of options here. Some states sell their prisoners on the free market (a lot of airlines use this route). States with tough welfare laws often require people on the dole to work at minimum wage jobs or lose all their benefits. Or you could try another country, preferably one with a represive government and lots of hungry people (I think Phil Knight has a list of them).
      • Don't replace the lost manhours, just cut back on the quality of service. Most people who use AOL aren't going to leave no matter how bad it gets.
    • Yeah, I was wondering about that myself, but this is the way corporate heads think. "We need more money!" "Damn -- slash the production forces!" "Sir! We're using less money now, but we won't hit our sales targets!" "Slash one-third of the workforce!" "Sir! Our production is a lot less!" "The firings will continue until production improves!"

      Well, it depends on the company, really. If they all thought this way, none of them would succeed.

  • voices (Score:2, Funny)

    by pogofish ( 514289 )

    We can send emails with MPEG attachments to the sys admins of the sites brought to their knees by /. links.

    "You've been slashdotted."

  • This should make everyone in little businesses getting raped by the market feel a bit better, seeing that massive corporations can't even hide from the recession.
  • Her name sounds EXTREMELY familiar, but I can't place it, and IMDB has nothing, just a Shelly Reynolds, which isn't her. Anybody know WHY her name sounds familiar? Or other work she's done?
  • by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @04:29PM (#2120054) Homepage Journal
    Edwards got $100 initially, and the WAVs sounded like they were recorded on an old Magnecord PT6 reel recorder. the original WAVs had some component of a whistle up to speed leading them all, indicating they started the tape and pointed a cue, instead of rolling tape continuously, cueing the announcements, and putting nonmagnetic leader tape in between for cleaner digitization. so when AOL 3.0 came out, they rehired Edwards to reprise the tags, and he got considerably more... I have heard something in the $25,000 range. they also got the whistles out.
  • El Edwards (Score:4, Interesting)

    by acm ( 107375 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @04:06PM (#2120290) Homepage

    "Who could have foreseen something like this happening," said Elwood Edwards. "Years ago my wife worked at AOL and asked me to record the greetings for the company. Now, as I think about the millions of AOL members who consider me as the 'mailman' of cyberspace, I'm amazed. I'm pleased that I've had a small part in making the computer world smaller and more personable."

    Edwards has recently started his own business doing voice-overs for commercial and business broadcasts, radio and television. More information about Elwood Edwards and his voice-over services can be found at his Website:

    • I bet AOL would pay handsomely to NOT have El do certain voiceovers . . . say be the voice over for an Earthlink commercial. "You've got great value with Earthlink."
  • They must have fired there top managers if they raise $40 billion by laying of only 1000 people that means that each now if we could only get other company's to follow suite
  • What we need is a voice that can say f1rst p0st for those comments, when you view the them
    Then again, my soundcard cannot handle more that 64 samples at once...
  • I maybe that I am stating the obvious, but this shows just how little AOL cares about people. I guess I should expect this, because they are a company, and therefore strive be as profitable as possible.

    Since AOL Time Warner now owns Time magazine, I have already cancelled my subscription, and very clearly stated that I was doing it because of their monopolistic practices.
  • So the new voice of Microsoft is going to be somebody who says "I'm a total Luddite?" Hmmmm.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:46PM (#2125209) Homepage
    They also need to come up with some soothing, high positive energy Aquarius phrases for the following:

    "This application has performed an illegal operation and will be shutdown"

    "Please wait"

    "Would you like to reboot now?"

    "We are going to MSN today"

    "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that".
  • Isn't the "you've got mail" voice from xbiff++, before AOL existed?
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @04:11PM (#2128638) Homepage
    Why pay someone 5+ figures for their voice when you can just copy any voice? I guess these Microsoft guys really don't read slashdot enough 25 3&mode=thread
  • El Edwards (Score:2, Informative)

    by tbmaddux ( 145207 )
    El Edwards has a website with more of his voice work. [] Not surprisingly, it's an AOL member page. I listened to his demo briefly and I could swear I heard a faint tinge of desparation in his voice.
  • Hmmm. (Score:3, Funny)

    by nion ( 19898 ) <nion AT geekfest DOT net> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:55PM (#2132528) Homepage
    (Edwards reportedly got about $100; Reynolds will receive something under six figures.)


    "You've got screwed!"
    • i would bet money that edwards was some AOL employee with a "radio voice" who had options back when AOL was at $15, and before all the stock splits.

      I think he's got the last laugh...
      "You've got rich!" ;-)

    • It's El, not Ed.
  • The Star Trek computer voice was done by Gene Roddenberry's (S.T. Creator) wife Majel Roddenberry... and I don't know WHAT she got paid for it.

    (She also played Lwaxana Troi in STTNG)
  • Lawsuits... (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by _14k4 ( 5085 )
    I cant wait for AOL to sue Micros~1 for saying "You've got mail". They'll probably go with something like "You have a new e-mail message, but you havent properly verified your key for your installation of WindowsXP. We are notifying the proper authorities. Please call us at 1-900-444-3321."

    _14k4 []
  • C:\PROGRAM FILES\Internet Information Server\Media\Sounds\
    CodeRed.WAV "You've got worms!"
  • There's also this link on Yahoo News [], courtesy of the world authority on layoffs [] ;). And of course, that has its own message boards on the subject as well [].
  • .....does a company have "under 6 figures" to give somone for saying "You got mail". Here is what microsoft should have done if they wanted to save money since AOL is pre-installed on every computer.

    ....(Their Code)
    StupidNewMailSound=new File("C:\AOHell\gotmail.wav");
    if(mail) {;
    (More Code Goes Here)

    IANAL, but I think this would work because Microsoft will not be distributing the sound. Then microsoft would instantly have the power of the "You've Got Mail" guy.
  • If a company did not lay people off after a large acquisition, it would be an atypical situation. Most acquisitions are mainly driven by the need/want of the services that the acquired company provides, redundant personnel are given their walking papers, and the combined company is seen by stockholders to be operating more efficiently. These layoffs shouldn't be a surprise at all, it's the way the business world works.
  • I found it odd to read an article on the internet, extolling the virtues of human voices instead of just the written word, and it contained no way to actually HEAR Shelley Reynold's voice! I mean, they could at least have provided links to somewhere on MSN's web site or even to a home page for her where people could check out her portfolio. I found myself wondering, "Just WHAT does she sound like?" but, I am NOT so interested as to sign up for MSN to find out! Can anyone provide links so we can hear what all the talk is about?

    • MS probably already has her under a contract, kinda like how the people who voice The Simpsons aren't supposed to do their voices in public. I guess it would be a bit more difficult if it was her normal voice they were using, but i am sure she has some rules, releasing her voice to the press may be one of them.
    • Download MSN Explorer. She is the voice that greets you when you log on. Good morning, good afternoon...etc. I know it's not something most of the people on this board would ever download, but if you want to hear her voice that badly, it IS free!
  • by Slomojokoko ( 159283 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @05:12PM (#2135050)
    I'll sign up for the ISP that starts geek voice-overs.

    "Dude, /var/mail/you is empty-- get some friends!"
  • Jeez, how many folks are left working at Netscape?
    They had a big fat zero jobs openings posted as of today, out of the 100+ across all of AOL (excluding Time-Warner). My knee-jerk reaction is to ask what how badly this is going to muck up in-house Mozilla development.
  • by Nick Number ( 447026 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:53PM (#2138155) Homepage Journal
    AOL would offend far fewer people if they just had some honest commercials [].
  • $100 is short of six figures as well.

    Seriously though, these seems like a lot of rationalization to justify pinching AOL's approach to their service. Not that AOL came up with it, but MSN seems like its trying hard to be AOL in drag.

    One more thing: wasn't the voice of the Borg female? I forget...
  • Poor guy... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Psarchasm ( 6377 )
    "Do the voice again! Do the voice again!" - Drunken bar patron badgering El
    • Reminds me of a story...(/me leans back, opens a Shiner Bock longneck, stares into space with a dreamy look in his eyes)

      Back in the early-to-mid-90's, I lived the slacker life in Austin (I realize nowadays, Austin is too hip to be hip anymore, which is one of the reasons it's been overpopulated by refugees from San Francisco, and is also is one of the reasons I left, but I digress). One of my best friends was a diligent worker at Ruby's BBQ, a local barbeque joint with one location and no plans for expansion. At the time, the place was located adjacent to Antone's blues club (the blues club has since relocated to downtown, and Antone has since relocated to federal prison []) and Ruby's BBQ was open until 3am on weekends. This, combined with the Texas liquor laws requiring bars to close at 2am, led to a lot of business for Ruby's, and a lot of Antones' drunken patrons vomiting up a lot of perfectly good beef brisket and sausage. Now, my good friend (I'll call him Scott) had the good/mis-fortune of working at Ruby's almost every Friday and Saturday night (bad because he didn't get off until late, and good because after he got off, he usually stayed up until dawn drinking out of Rubys' beer cooler). Well anyway, one night while ol' Scott was working the late-night shift, this young feller walks in, drunk off his ass. He's waiting in line, joking with his friends, and doing absolutely spectacular impressions of Beavis and Butthead, and Anderson (don't forget the time period this is taking place in). I mean, not only are the voices spot-on, but the observations being made in character are absolutely uproarious. This fellow gets to the head of the line, proceeds to order a combo sandwich [] in Anderson's voice, and moves off to wait for his order to be fulfilled. Upon speaking with the other members of his party, this fellow turns out to be a personage no less than Mike Judge himself. He eventually receives his order, goes to his table, and proceeds to regale his companions with hilarious (to the sober) impressions of the decor at Ruby's, the food at Ruby's, and the overpriced, talentless acts booked by Antone, all in the voices of the characters of America's best-loved cartoon show (Power Puff Girls were still several years away).

      Well, that's pretty much the whole story. Sorry I'm not like the classic Deep South narrator (well thish-yer Smiley)...maybe you had to be there to appreciate it.

    • > "Do the voice again! Do the voice again!" - Drunken bar patron badgering El [Edwards, guy behind AOL's "You've Got Mail"

      Could be worse. Imagine what Shelly Reynolds' [gal for the new MSN voiceovers] husband has to not think of during sex.

  • priorities? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by die_rollerblader ( 469147 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:40PM (#2139862) Homepage
    Does it seem odd to anyone else that this article about the new voice for MSN is about three times longer than the one about the DMCA and Dimitri from the other day?

    I guess we can see where the press' priorities are.
  • I see it like this: with the help of the merger, AOL now realizes it is becoming a monopoly in its own right, so they don't need to advertise anymore, so they don't need a marketing department, so they're laying all those guys off. Makes sense to me.

    • AOL now realizes it is becoming a monopoly in its own right, so they don't need to advertise anymore, so they don't need a marketing department, so they're laying all those guys off. Makes sense to me.

      It is more likely to be the case that they are firing their technical staff. Sales and marketing generate revenue, everyone else is overhead...
  • by abischof ( 255 ) <alex&spamcop,net> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @04:02PM (#2140789) Homepage
    "It picks up a certain audio decibel [...]"

    What kind of non-sentence is that? Isn't that like saying that a bouler has "a certain mass kilogram"?
    • Err, "boulder". (doh!)

      FWIW, I find the definition of boulder [] to be quite interesting: "A large rounded mass of rock lying on the surface of the ground or embedded in the soil". Why not just say "a large rounded mass of rock", and leave it at that?
      • When they're not "lying on the surface of the ground or embedded in the soil" they're ususally called "catapult missles".
      • FWIW, I find the definition of boulder to be quite interesting: "A large rounded mass of rock lying on the surface of the ground or embedded in the soil". Why not just say "a large rounded mass of rock", and leave it at that?
        Because an asteroid is not a boulder. :-)
    • Good grammatical point indeed. :)
      I fear I still have to correct the physics of it. The decibel unit isn't a unit per se; it's 1/10th of a bel. A bel is a logarithmic quantity: it means you express a unit logarithmically. In effect, a 60 decibels (6 bels) sound is ten times louder than a 50 decibels sound. So, the words 'audio decibel' aren't that stupid.
      Now, my physics courses are far behind me, but I believe the 'real' unit behind sound is joules, used to express the energy of the mass of air displaced by a sound. Or something like that anyway. :) Corrections and details welcome!
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:44PM (#2141391)
    > MSN is having a woman named Shelley Reynolds create a series of spoken identifiers for its online service similar to AOL's famous 'You've got mail!'

    AOL: "You've got mail!"

    MSN/Win9x: "You've got mail! Now go tell your friends to use MSN! [].

    MSN/WinXP: "You've got mail! Click here to pay $0.35 to read the first 1024 characters..."

  • by zpengo ( 99887 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:44PM (#2141394) Homepage
    • "Hello! Welcome to Messin'!"
    • "You've got spam!"
    • "You've got porn!"
    • "You've got General Protection Fault!"
    • "I'm afraid I can't let you do that!"
    • "You've got pirated software! Now autodialing FBI..."
    • "Linux? That Page Cannot Be Found!"
  • by Mike Schiraldi ( 18296 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:44PM (#2141396) Homepage Journal
    "I honestly believe I have enough positive energy ? this is totally an Aquarius-type deal ? if I record these things thinking very positively, I kind of believe metaphysically it cheers people up. They'll get a positive hit," Reynolds says.

    I think Ms. Reynolds has taken a few too many positive hits herself.
    • Too bad that Lorenzo Music (Carleton, your doorman) just passed away and isn't available. He always sounded as though he'd taken a few hits.

      Probably better known to the younger of you as the voice for the cartoon character "Garfield" (the cat), a casting decision I wish they hadn't made, 'cause it ruined my memories of Carleton, and wasn't a voice with which I would have associated with Garfield before they animated him.

  • Must be inflation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sg3000 ( 87992 ) <sg_public&mac,com> on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:49PM (#2141617)

    I remember when Microsoft used to pay college professors [] only $200 to talk about them.

  • by canning ( 228134 ) on Tuesday August 14, 2001 @03:51PM (#2142821) Homepage
    similar to AOL's famous 'You've got mail!'

    MSN- "You've got mail, are you sure you want to read it?"
    USER- *click yes*
    MSN- "Are you sure?"
    USER- *click yes again*
    MSN- "You must reboot"

    • > MSN- "You've got mail, are you sure you want to read it?"
      >USER- *click yes*
      >MSN- "Are you sure?"
      >USER- *click yes again*
      >MSN- "You must reboot"

      Unless, of course, it contains a .vbs attachment, in which case it's automatically opened with a cheery:

      "Hello! Someone send you this file to get your advice!"

  • Edwards reportedly got about $100; Reynolds will receive something under six figures

    James Earl Jones got $1mil (I think?) just to say "CNN" for the CNN network comercials....
    Man I wish I had a voice speaking job....
  • haven't MSN users always been hearing voices?
  • Not to indulge in rumor-mongering, just asking --

    Any idea whether this will have an effect on Mozilla [] or the Open Directory Project []?


  • Hopefully this will help illustrate why half-arsed attempts by ISPs to provide 'content' to their subscribers are to be avoided. It might have looked like a good idea a couple of years ago when the advertising market was buoyant and share prices were based on - well, who knows, but having some trite 'portal' probably helped to boost them further.

    But if even specialist content companies like Salon - whose only purpose is to provide content and make money from adverts - find it hard to survive, what's the point in service providers wasting resources on that too?

    An ISP provides a certain level of service, for which you pay a fixed monthly subscription - which isn't subject to the whims of the advertising market. What's wrong with sticking to a tried and tested formula?

    (Okay, so this is AOL, and they feel they have to do *something* to exploit those users who don't change their browser home page... but I still wish they wouldn't bother.)
  • Goes without saying that any voiceovers or "sound and technology" as computer scientist call them, are very expensive. Female voiceovers because of the excruciatingly small number of women in the business of speaking in public, are the most expensive. You always hear stories about how Julia Roberts commanded the highest fee in the history of acting to come out of her 10 year "maternity leave". Well voiceovers are no different. When was the last time you heard a female voiced movie trailer?

"Probably the best operating system in the world is the [operating system] made for the PDP-11 by Bell Laboratories." - Ted Nelson, October 1977