Want to know whether traffic on the Beltway is good (doubtful), bad (more likely) or intolerably miserable (the norm)? Yahoo has added a traffic-update feature to its maps section (maps.yahoo.com) that hands out nearly up-to-the-minute information on accidents, construction and traffic speeds.
Yahoo isn't exactly breaking new ground here, as online metro-area traffic reports are currently available on a number of local news sites, such as NBC4.com, WJLA.com, WTOPnews.com and washingtonpost.com, as well as through Traffic.com. But Yahoo's traffic information is woven into its map service -- any time you look up an address or driving directions, you can get a reality check by clicking the "View Traffic on Map" box to the right of the map.
And the sheer number of folks who turn to Yahoo every day will likely make it a much-used service. For the most part, those users should be satisfied -- provided Yahoo can keep this data current. One afternoon, while other sites were warning of a major accident closing several lanes on Interstate 66, Yahoo was blissfully unaware. (Yahoo cites the Maryland, Virginia and District departments of transportation as its sources; in other cities, it also relies on local governments as well as commercial services.)
Yahoo uses different icons to designate construction and traffic accidents. Click on one, and a pop-up window displays details and the severity of the delay. The map also indicates current traffic speed as reported by dozens of roadside monitors along stretches of the Beltway, I-66, I-95 and U.S. 50 -- something only Traffic.com and WTOPnews.com also do.
These speed monitors are represented by small colored dots on the map: Green indicates speeds over 50 mph, red means stopped traffic and yellow is in between. Unfortunately, the Beltway is tracked in this manner only from I-66 to I-270; if you want to know how slow you'll be crawling to the Redskins game, you're out of luck.
Yahoo's service is also largely missing a feature a few other traffic sites offer -- links to the traffic cameras operated by local transportation departments. There's no better way to get a sense of traffic conditions at, say, the intersection of Connecticut and K than to see with your own eyes.
Yahoo is offering this feature for Washington and 69 other U.S. metropolitan areas.
Tallying Up Online Shopping
Consumers are on track to spend $15.5 billion at Web stores this holiday season, according to ComScore Networks Inc. The Reston-based market-research firm released its latest estimate for holiday online shopping on Wednesday. The forecast for online sales during November and December would represent an increase of 28 percent from the total for the same period last year.
A Critical Set of Eyes
A site called Metacritic offers help to perplexed filmgoers trying to choose among this season's would-be Oscar contenders. Metacritic employs an unusually mathematical approach: It links to dozens of reviews in publications and on Web sites, converts each one's evaluation to a number from 1 (truly awful) to 100 (sheer genius), then averages those figures (giving more weight to reviews from better-known sources) to yield a "metascore."
"Sideways" tops the current crop of movies with a score of 92, while current box-office leader "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" comes in at a rather middling 60. The site, based in Santa Monica, Calif., also provides scores for DVDs, music and video games (Half-Life 2 won game-of-the-year honors with a metascore of 97).
www.metacritic.comLeslie Walker is away. She will resume writing Web Watch when she returns.