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Web Watch by Leslie Walker

Weather Data In Your Own Back Yard

By Leslie Walker
The Washington Post
Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page F06

WeatherBug wants to make meteorologists out of its users. The Internet weather service based in Gaithersburg has begun selling sensors that can turn anyone's back yard into a Web-connected weather station.

WeatherBug's $350 "basic" backyard weather station measures temperature, rainfall, wind speed and other variables while continually sending the data via a cable to a Windows PC running the WeatherBug Plus software (www.weatherbugbackyard.com). Two pricier versions, at $750 and $1,150, record more data and can transmit it wirelessly up to 1,000 feet.

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While the backyard stations initially send weather reports only to the owner's own home, WeatherBug plans to allow these amateur meteorologists to share their weather data with millions of other WeatherBug users. The company plans to use this data in a new community weather channel instead of funneling it into its flagship service, which ComScore Networks reported drew nearly 20 million visitors in October.

That audience makes WeatherBug, owned by AWS Convergence Technologies, one of the Internet's most heavily used services. The service gathers data from thousands of its own weather stations and Web cameras across the country, then publishes it in free and paid versions.

Other recent additions to WeatherBug's offerings include the delivery of severe weather alerts and forecasts via text messages to cell phones (www.weatherbug.com/wireless). Text alerts became available in November and cost between $3 and $5 a month. In October, Verizon Wireless announced a deal allowing people who own some of its newer phones to see WeatherBug photos and real-time forecasts on their phones' screens. And in September WeatherBug offered users the ability to upload their own digital photos of storms and other local weather conditions to their local TV stations for possible use on the air.

Santa Incoming

The official Web site for Santa's worldwide sleigh flight has gotten an early start this year, with a launch last week of the NORAD Tracks Santa site. Starting at 5 a.m. on Dec. 24, the America Online-hosted site will offer kids live video clips of Santa's Christmas Eve journey (these videos were viewed more than 9 million times last year). This year, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) is providing its 50th year of Santa tracking, a service that has been broadcast on the Web since 1997.


Blinkx or You'll Miss It

A start-up called Blinkx has released a new version of its desktop-search software that adds a nifty feature called Smart Folders. This lets people save custom searches as special folders, which automatically include shortcuts to any matching documents.

Blinkx 2.0, available in beta as a free download for Windows 2000 and XP, is the second release of the company's free Web-and-desktop search software, which debuted in July. Unlike many competing programs that require people to type in search keywords, Blinkx automatically scans any open window on a user's screen -- say, a Microsoft Word document or Web page -- tries to infer its context and prepares a list of matching documents, which Blinkx will present when a user requests it.


E-mail Leslie Walker at walkerl@washpost.com.

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