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The New York Times Co. is ramping up its online activities as it prepares to establish a presence on the Internet.

The Times Co.'s Information Services Group is creating an Internet database drawn from the jumbo employment classified ad section of the Sunday edition of flagship The New York Times. Further details are still under wraps, but insiders say the project is likely to be unveiled by monthend.

In the meantime, the Times Co. is adding a touch of ad-supported fun to its @times online service on America Online.

Starting sometime this quarter, @times will offer a weekly comic series called "Parallel Lives," sponsored by Nabisco. Each episode will end with a cliffhanger designed to inspire readers to "click in" next week.

Nabisco's sponsorship features promotions for four brands: Cream of Wheat, Milk-Bone pet snacks, A.1. Steak Sauce and Triscuit wafers.

"It's a new format for attracting consumers," a Nabisco spokeswoman said. "We wanted to create something that appealed to a dual audience of men and women and that provided a format that was very different from your conventional advertising format."

Nabisco will provide information on topics such as petcare, nutrition, meal-planning and cooking.

"The people at Nabisco really got the idea," said Mark Gauthier, a partner at Gauthier & Gilden, New York, and the creative director behind the series. "They said we could do for the online medium what Procter & Gamble did for soap operas in the early '50s."

AOL subscribers can interact with Nabisco by requesting coupons, recipes and other items.

"We don't consider this intrusive advertising," said Dina Roman, director of new-media advertising for the Times Co.'s Information Services Group.

The series is scheduled for a three-month test run and could be expanded.

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