Fool Portfolio Report
Thursday, March 6, 1997
by Tom Gardner (TomGardner)

ALEXANDRIA, VA., (March 6, 1997) -- Wow, this has been an awful two-week period for The Motley Fool's services on America Online. Just as things are humming along at breakneck speed on the World Wide Web, with the help of our new hosting site, UUNet, our services on America Online have ground nearly to a halt.

AOL's access problems coupled with this transition to new message-board technology -- a mandatory transition for us -- have made using The Fool on America Online in the month of March about as joyous as passing a jar-ful of kidney stones while fishing for your contact lens in a bucket of hydrochloric acid, barehanded, while being forced for no apparent reason to lick dirty nickels off the inner sole of your brother's running shoe.


Stop for a second. Consider those three simultaneous endeavors -- the kidney stones, the handful of acid, the dirty nickels on your tongue. And then ponder what things have been like of late at keyword: Fool on America Online. Grim, fairly grim.

I can assure you that the past week has been comparably grim for us at Fool Global Headquarters (FGH). In that we now gleefully serve over 380,000 households on America Online each month, the customer service burdens over the last seven days have been daunting. In the last ten days, we've responded to over one thousand individual, e-mailed complaints per day. You well know that we'd rather be researching stocks, talking about investing & personal finance with the nation, and making easy jokes about Charles Givens and Elaine Garzarelli.

How much greater is the pain for us, therefore, since in most every instance we have agreed with the complaints -- their tone and content. The message board system that America Online required us to transit onto on February 26th has proven clunky, disorganized, and slow.


Hey, slowdown for a second, partner.





lo. . .

(Host not responding)

wwww. Slow.

And while we are profoundly disappointed (occasionally bordering on a disappointment that is bitter), Fools all, I'm proud to announce that I believe a corner is ready to be turned and that the performance of our message boards on America Online are speeding up and will continue to do so.

How so?

A lot of hard work on the part of America Online programmers. These guys and gals are definitely hard at work on this.

Now what can we do in the meantime?

My chief recommendation (something that's worked for me) is that you follow the path of our Messages Screen which will now direct you exclusively to the option titled "The Global Find." Clicking that will occasion a fifteen-to-thirty-second delay (I've timed it forty times this afternoon). But once you've completed this task, you should find that your access to all of our message boards will be swift, as swift as the old boards.

Why is this the case? What's my pet theory?

America Online has created a gateway to NNTP-based message boards now, allowing that at some point they'll be visible on The Web. The problem is that the gateway out to those boards -- your click off of the AOL-platform and onto the NNTP-platform -- thus far has proven a directly uphill climb. In fact, when I shut my eyes and visualize analogies for the journey, I see young computer users racing into oncoming traffic on I-95. I see Charlie Chaplin trying to push back 650-pound Sumo wrestler, Konishiki.

It's an uphill battle.

Thankfully, once through the gateway, my experience has been that the boards will move as quickly as the good-old, world-beating, best-in-the-business message boards that AOL had in place prior to this "upgrade." In other words, The Motley Fool believes it has located the missing piece to this puzzle, the diamond in the rough! Crawl through the gateway via the Global Find, suffer the 15-30 seconds of delay, and then the boards will zip along at normal speed.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that the interface is flawless. Throughout this month and out into spring, America Online programmers and designers are going to be working feverishly to improve the appearance functionality of the boards. I have every confidence that they'll build a system superior to the old boards. Every historical precedent at AOL has shown their ability to reconstruct toward ease-of-use (or easiest-use). All of my instincts tell me the same will be true here. Naturally, I wish they had done all this work before requiring The Motley Fool to make the transition. Perhaps some product-testing lessons have been learned.

Not astonishingly, America Online's stock has climbed ever higher of late. AOL closed up $3/8 to $43 today. The stock is up from $33 1/2 less than a month ago, marking a 28.5% ascent. This stock has picked our wee Fool Portfolio up on its shoulders and carried us to greener pastures. Today, it near single-handedly dragged our account ahead 0.37% versus S&P 500 declines of 0.42%. The lesson? Sometimes the product momentarily sours just as the prospects brighten significantly, and the stock shines.

3Com Corporation (Nasdaq:COMS) fell $1/8-point, even as ComputerWorld announced that the company ranked 1st in its user-satisfaction survey. Polling 1,600 network managers about equipment quality, service and support, ComputerWorld published today that 3Com ranked above Cisco, Bay Networks and Cabletron. Additionally, and most interestingly, ComputerWorld reported that 3Com's network interface cards (NICs) ranked number one as well, ahead of Hewlett-Packard and Intel, respectively.

None of this means that we're making money on COMS right now, after it was split by the market. In fact, today's news introduced a $1/8 loss! Yet, given that chief rival Cisco Systems fell $2 1/4 to $54 5/8 and Intel fell $4 to $145 1/8, we can endure today's sloughing.

Chevron (NYSE:CHV) rose another $1 1/8 to $66 1/2 as Bear Stearns upped expectations for a group of oil-drillers. At this price, Chevron is inching closer to its all-time high and the stock is up 32.25% for us. I mean not to overstate things when I opine that you just gotta love the simplicity, charm, and superiority of this Foolish-Four Dow stock approach.

Balancing out the good news, unfortunately, came $1-plus drops from Lucent, KLA Instruments, and 3M. The only meaningful news from any of these comes out of Lucent headquarters in Murray Hill, New Jersey. The Company announced today that it is suing Aspect Telecommunications for patent infringement, crying foul on Aspect's CallCenter(R) systems. We'll keep our eyes on the courts.

So. . . another day ends for our Fool stocks. It seems almost pathetic to note that we're beating the market in the month of March -- up 2.58% versus the S&P 500's 0.98% gains. In fact, it is pathetic. So I won't mention it.

Still, it is nice.

And finally, if you have any questions about our America Online message boards, please do not hesitate to drop our All-Star catcher, MF Bogey, an email. He or someone on his staff can walk you through the gateway, can explain the different features of the new system, and probably can offer a good joke or two in the process. In fact, go ahead and email him regardless of the boards -- his mailbox is probably empty!


Tom Gardner, Fool


Stock Change Bid -------------------- AOL + 3/8 43.00 T + 1/8 36.25 ATCT + 1/4 7.13 CHV +1 1/8 66.50 GM - 3/4 56.13 IOM + 1/4 15.50 KLAC -1 3/8 39.50 LU -1 1/2 52.75 MMM -1 1/8 90.88 COMS - 1/8 35.25
Day Month Year History FOOL +0.37% 2.58% -6.72% 148.96% S&P: -0.42% 0.98% 7.81% 74.21% NASDAQ: -1.03% 0.49% 1.89% 82.65% Rec'd # Security In At Now Change 5/17/95 2010 Iomega Cor 2.52 15.50 515.33% 8/5/94 680 AmOnline 7.27 43.00 491.24% 8/12/96 110 Minn M&M 65.68 90.88 38.37% 8/11/95 125 Chevron 50.28 66.50 32.25% 10/1/96 42 LucentTech 47.62 52.75 10.78% 8/12/96 280 Gen'l Moto 51.97 56.13 7.99% 8/12/96 130 AT&T 39.58 36.25 -8.41% 8/24/95 130 KLA Instrm 44.71 39.50 -11.66% 8/13/96 250 3Com Corp. 46.86 35.25 -24.78% 10/22/96 600 ATC Comm. 22.94 7.13 -68.94% Rec'd # Security In At Value Change 8/5/94 680 AmOnline 4945.56 29240.00 $24294.44 5/17/95 2010 Iomega Cor 5063.13 31155.00 $26091.87 8/12/96 110 Minn M&M 7224.44 9996.25 $2771.81 8/11/95 125 Chevron 6285.61 8312.50 $2026.89 8/12/96 280 Gen'l Moto 14552.49 15715.00 $1162.51 10/1/96 42 LucentTech 1999.88 2215.50 $215.62 8/12/96 130 AT&T 5145.11 4712.50 -$432.61 8/24/95 130 KLA Instrm 5812.49 5135.00 -$677.49 8/13/96 250 3Com Corp. 11714.99 8812.50 -$2902.49 10/22/96 600 ATC Comm. 13761.50 4275.00 -$9486.50 CASH $4909.01 TOTAL $124478.26