TECHNOLOGY: NOT JUST BUDDIES

With membership shrinking, America Online hopes to reload with its latest upgrade, AOL 9.0 (available free to members). Some features are goofy, like a Toontown version of emoticons called SuperBuddy Icons, including one based on Ben Stiller and another on a triggerfish. Others are long overdue, like a fortified mail client that unabashedly borrows from competitor Microsoft's Outlook. Parental controls are improved, more spam is blocked and there are beefed-up security features like firewalls for broadband users. The popular "You've Got Pictures" application now lets you more easily integrate photos into mail, albums and Web logs. (Yes, the new AOL lets you blog!) The most subversive idea is adding voice capability to instant messaging: it's like free long-distance phone calls.