Those who remember the old ticker symbol aren't dreaming. AOL (NYSE:AOL) is back on the New York Stock Exchange, now that Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) has completed the spinoff of its problematic online arm.

The stock isn't much of a debutante today. Shares of AOL have been drifting lower, and shareholders shouldn't have expected a rosier reception. Since Time Warner is distributing the shares to its investors, it's understandable if many of them choose to cash out and treat the sale as a holiday dividend.

AOL has a lot to prove before it begins heading higher. Sure, it made key executive hires from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) to regain some dot-com sizzle, but it's still a mess.

Revenue and operating profits fell by 23% and 50%, respectively, at AOL in its latest quarter. Its access business is a sinking stone: It shed 2.1 million subscribers and now has just 5.4 million members willing to pay to reach the "welcome" screen. Why didn't AOL sell off its dial-up business to Earthlink (NASDAQ:ELNK) or United Online (NASDAQ:UNTD) while it was still worth something?

The AOL blueprint over the past couple of years has been to tear down the wall and make up the difference through ad-supported revenue. Unfortunately, ad revenue has taken a 22% hit over the past year. Even the display-advertising laggards are holding up better. Yahoo! and IAC's (NASDAQ:IACI) media and advertising revenue fell by 8% and 12%, respectively, during the same quarter.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I'm going to keep an eye on AOL over the next few months. Once the Time Warner shareholders throw in the towel, there may be value remaining for a collection of online properties that still serve up a ton of page views and can be monetized more effectively.

There is hope out there, even if today's debut appears so very hopeless.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an AOL subscriber since the early 1990s, and he's frustrated that many of the services have been axed. He owns no shares in any of the stocks in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.