By Bethany McLean

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Barry Diller calls an audible

In late 2003, fresh off a $6 billion spending spree on travel assets like Expedia and HotWire, Barry Diller's Interactive Corp. gave a presentation to investors that was designed to persuade them that his collection of Internet assets was going to become a real operating company instead of an inveterate deal doer. But in late December, Diller announced that Interactive plans to spin off its travel business into a separate company. For a man who told investors that the company's one goal was "consistency," this turn of events is, of course, anything but consistent. So what does it mean for shareholders? Travel has been suffering from renewed competitive vigor on the part of other travel sites and suppliers such as hotels. That's helped push IAC's stock down by double digits this year. The spinoff news sent it higher, and it's only fair to note that over time IAC's stock has trounced the S&P 500. Even so, Diller's latest move sheds light on a longer-term issue. Skeptics have long complained that Interactive uses complexity to obfuscate its results. Yet it's not the company's finances that are opaque so much as its strategy. In a sense, it's the ultimate faith stock, because you just never know what Diller will do next. As he told FORTUNE in a May 2004 cover story: "It's hard to be consistent when you're making it up every day. That's the bitch of it." -- Bethany McLean