Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: AOL to Lay Off 10 Percent of Staff, Cutting 700, Due to Ad Meltdown and a Refocusing on New Structure

Time Warner online unit AOL is cutting 700 employees due to the weak economy and the ensuing falloff in advertising revenue, but also because of recent structural changes made to refocus the once-mighty service.

AOL CEO Randy Falco sent a memo this afternoon to AOL staff about the layoffs and other cost cuts being made, confirming the moves.

The 10 percent reduction in workforce will take place over the next several quarters, with most of the U.S. layoffs to be completed by March. AOL has 7,000 employees world-wide, mostly located domestically.

AOL is also eliminating merit raises, just as Yahoo (YHOO) and other digital companies have done recently, and consolidating facilities.

While Time Warner (TWX) has been trying to sell AOL to Yahoo, the online unit has also been shifting its resources, as part of a long-term turnaround plan. It has focused the company on three parts: its Platform-A ad unit; its communications and social-networking arm, People Networks; and its recently launched MediaGlow content studio.

It has also been in the midst of splitting out its longtime access business, which has provided the bulk of AOL’s revenues and profits, which sources said has given its top execs insight into what its future business model should be.

Besides the layoffs and cost cuts, sources said AOL was also looking at paring its international business, which has never been particularly successful.

As part of its ongoing moves to make New York its main HQ, AOL will also be consolidating facilities in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and at its original homestead in Dulles, Va., although not closing it completely.

Much as throughout the online advertising industry, AOL has seen drastic declines in growth. In a recent financial report, AOL said its ad business dropped almost 20 percent year over year.

And AOL’s worth has also declined, with Google (GOOG) recently writing down its 2005 investment of $1 billion in the online service, which valued it then at $20 billion. It is now valued at $5.5 billion.