Traffic news you can use

Traffic websites, with their color-coded maps of clogged streets and freeways, are good at telling commuters when congestion is already awful. But what if they could know not only where you drive, but if the route is going to be bad today, and warned you ahead of time?

A team of researchers at IBM Corp. is working on a system that would do just that.

They’ve combined sophisticated analytics software with a network of sensors the state has already embedded in roadways throughout California. With the help of a database of past traffic tie-ups, they say they can predict when they’ll happen in the future.

IBM, which worked with the state Department of Transportation and the California Center for Innovative Transportation at the University of California, Berkeley, can’t tell you when an accident is going to happen — yet. But John Day, an IBM manager, says that’s a natural extension of the work his team has been doing, and one day could well be something they could reasonably infer from the data they’re collecting.

For now, the researchers are showing that they can go a step beyond what’s available on regional traffic websites, which report current conditions.

“Instead of just showing them how ugly this looks, or what it looked like five minutes ago, let’s give them an idea of what this looks like 30 to 40 minutes from now,” Day said. 

Web browser Flock to disappear

Flock, a Web browser that was designed for information-sharing as well as surfing, is being discontinued after its development team was bought up by Zynga Inc., the maker of “FarmVille” and other online games.

A notice on the Flock website says support for the browser will end on April 26. It’s no longer available for download.

The site warns that because security updates will no longer go out, users should switch to another browser.

Zynga bought the Flock team in January, but not the browser itself or the Flock.com website.

The first public beta version of Flock launched in 2006. It was initially based on the technology behind Firefox and added features to make it easier to blog and share bookmarks and photos. Later versions were based on Google’s Chrome and added integration with Facebook and other social networks. 

Online ad revenue hits record in 2010

U.S. Internet advertising revenue hit a record $26 billion in 2010, boosted by the popularity of online videos and social media.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau found that last year’s ad revenue grew 15 percent from 2009. The previous record was in 2008, when full-year revenue hit $23.4 billion.

The report, released Wednesday, said fourth-quarter advertising revenue also hit a record, at $7.4 billion. That’s up 19 percent from the fourth quarter of 2009. The previous record was in the third quarter of 2010, at $6.5 billion.

The most popular ad format was search, which represented 46 percent, or $12 billion, of the year’s total revenue.

Display-related ads accounted for 38 percent, or $9.9 billion, of 2010 ad revenue. That category includes banner ads, digital video ads and sponsorships.

The third-largest Internet ad category is classifieds, which accounted for $2.6 billion, or 10 percent of 2010 revenue.

Bill addresses privacy issues

A Senate bill introduced Tuesday would establish a “privacy bill of rights” to set ground rules for companies that collect consumer data, including personal data amassed on the Internet and then mined to target online advertising.

The bill, sponsored by Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican John McCain of Arizona, would create a “baseline code of conduct” to govern the use of information that could identify a particular individual or a particular computer or smartphone.

It would establish a framework for how this data could be collected, used, stored and shared with third parties such as online advertising networks.

The proposal aims to address growing unease about the vast amounts of personal information that companies are scooping up on the Internet, including Web browsing habits and Facebook preferences. 

IPad cuts into PC sales again

Last year, the popularity of Apple Inc.’s iPad hurt PC sales. This year, that trend is continuing, as new data from two market research firms indicate PC shipments declined in the first three months of 2011.

On Wednesday, Gartner Inc. said that its research shows PC shipments dipped 1.1 percent compared with the same period last year, to 84.3 million.

IDC said its numbers show PC shipments fell 3.2 percent to 80.6 million.

The companies measure the market in different ways.

Gartner had expected 3 percent shipment growth, while IDC was looking for 1.5 percent growth.

Gartner principal analyst Mikako Kitagawa said that during the January-March period consumers weren’t as drawn to cheap PCs — usually a category that keeps the market growing.

Rather, they were interested in tablet computers and other consumer electronics.

“With the launch of the iPad 2 in February, more consumers either switched to buying an alternative device, or simply held back from buying PCs,” Kitagawa said. “We’re investigating whether this trend is likely to have a long-term effect on the PC market.” 

App dispute heads to court

Time Warner Cable Inc. and Viacom Inc. took their dispute over what content can be put on the cable company’s iPad app to federal court on Thursday, asking a judge to decide the issue.

The companies filed lawsuits against each other after Time Warner agreed to drop a dozen cable channels from the popular tablet computer sold by Apple Inc.

News Corp.’s Fox Cable Networks, Viacom and Discovery Communications Inc. had asked Time Warner to pull their programming from its iPad app, which was launched last month.

They argued that putting the programs on it was violating their programming contracts.

The media companies say Time Warner should pay more to distribute on devices other than TV sets. Time Warner says existing contracts already provide it with the rights.

Viacom said in its lawsuit that it cannot let Time Warner “unilaterally change the terms of its contractual relationship.”

It acknowledged that the cable company had taken the cable channels off the tablet computer by April, but it said a court order would be necessary to keep the company from putting the channels back on.

It also asked for $2 million for each violation of the contract between the companies, along with unspecified additional damages.

Time Warner said in a release that the court should rule that it is permitted to provide the programming over its cable systems for viewing on devices of its customers’ choosing, including iPads.