I’m familiarizing myself with the new terrain of the UC Berkeley School of Information (iSchool), and I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Erik Wilde, a member of the iSchool faculty with heavy XML research interests.

Anyway, Erik has a new iPhone, the little device which has sent Apple share-prices way up. He showed me the iPhone and how it connects to the web, plus some exciting ideas for new services that can piped into it. It feels like living in the future.

We also talked about what near continuous mobile web connectivity can give you in terms of social networking and geo-referenced data. One thing we’ve mused about is location awareness of the iPhone. It doesn’t have a GPS in it, but you can usually get some geo-location information through the IP addresses of the phone’s Internet connection and a website like this, which relates IP addresses to geographic locations. It might be fun to use the phones as a “friendar” (friend radar) to alert you when you’re near an acquaintance. Sounds fun, except Erik pointed out some obvious privacy issues. This type of thing would obviously be useful for tourists who visit places and augment their reality with web-based information of where they are. Geo-tagging web content should be an obvious concern for archaeologists and museum people who want to interact with the public.

Erik tried all this out, with the iPhone using both the local campus Wifi network and with the AT&T cellular network and an IP address geo-lookup service on the web. The AT&T network resolved to be in London (AT&T knows where his phone is, but doesn’t make it public), but the UC Berkeley network correctly resolved to be in Berkeley.  Some wireless networks will provide better geo-location than others, so interesting geo-location enabled services would work better in some places than others. Who knows, maybe enough networks are sufficiently “geo-localizable” to make building services for iPhone-like devices worthwhile.