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Ringing in 1998 on the Net

If you don't want to fight the traffic or crowds, New Year's Eve is coming to the Web with a live Webcast of activities.

If you don't want to fight the traffic or crowds, New Year's Eve is coming to the Web.

Choices include a live Webcast of activities at the Playboy mansion, real-time images of the Rose Parade, and live video coverage from Times Square, among others. Some of last year's participants, such as Yahoo, have opted out this year, however.

Nonetheless, the Webcasts of New Year's Eve are becoming a tradition and show the Net's growing influence. Last year, there were dozens of events, including offbeat ones such as a New Year's Eve book burning party in Ohio. They come amid a rise in Web-related events for other holidays, concerts, movies, and television shows. Cynics say the Webcasts are antisocial.

The festivities at Times Square in New York, complete with dropping ball, always are popular. "Join us for a cybercelebration," ABC News' Web site touts. "We'll be posting your messages and have live video coverage from New York's Times Square."

Want to watch the Rose Parade? Edison International, the parent of the Southern California energy utility, will let Netizens view photos of the festivities while the parade is in full swing. The system includes two video systems, powered by solar cells, mounted on Edison's float. The float's name: "Our Science Project."

Playboy, whose Web strategy has helped fuel its print profits, is getting into the act as well. For the first time, it will provide a live Webcast inside Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion, complete with playmates, celebrities--and a violin concert. Members of Playboy's subscription-based CyberClub can join in an interactive chat.

For those looking for an alternative New Year's celebration, such as an experience rich with art and culture, Virtual First Night is the Web home of the international New Year's events.

There are some virtual party poopers, however. "We're sorry, but we won't be having our New Year's Party for 1997," Yahoo says on its Web site. "We are so busy visiting with our family and friends that we couldn't be here to share it with you."

It suggests a visit to EarthCam, which provides a list of holiday Web cams. Among them is a live shot of the White House on New Year's Eve. "Keep an eye out for Hillary and Bill," the site says.