Running a mobile web server on the N96

So, anyone who follows my Twitter stream will know that yesterday I ran a little experiment on my new Nokia N96 phone (which I'll review in another week or so once I've had more experience using it). The experiment was to install a web server on the phone. I'll repeat that, because I know it sounds a little crazy: I installed a fully functioning web server on my mobile phone.

This didn't actually take much time or effort (otherwise I wouldn't have done it), as the web server is actually a Nokia application called Mobile Web Server. You can either install it via a PC and a usb cable, but even easier is just to browse to on the device itself and follow the instructions.

Once set up, you can go through and enable or disable the different features. The most interesting one (or perhaps most gimmicky one) is to let people take photos on your mobile's cameraphone. There are two ways to do this, you can just let people take photos willy-nilly, or you can let people 'request' a photo by sending you a short message, which opens up a prompt on the phone. Other features include making your GPS location and phone status (on the phone, on silent mode, etc) available, letting people send you messages, and sharing some of the photos you've previously taken. The camera feature definitely caught people's eye the most though, as evidenced by this snap captured by Mark Simpkins:

The only features I didn't enable were the 'blog' (as I have this one), and making my contacts and calendar available (for obvious reasons). I can, however, log in privately to view my contacts, which might be useful if I wasn't already synchronising my contacts with my Gmail contacts.

The mobile web server is still running on my phone as I write this, but I make no guarantees how long I'll leave it running for. I'm not sure yet how well it works running on 3G (as opposed to wi-fi), and it may be eating up battery power. The interesting thing though is to think how this kind of technology might actually be socially useful, as opposed to just gimmicky.

The most obvious application is to make the 'presence' information (whether your phone is on silent or not, whether you have reception or not, and how much battery power you have left) available to your contacts. This would let you friends know not to bother calling you if you were unlikely to answer. For this to actually be useful though, the information would have to be made available at the point at which you were about to call someone - ie when selecting a friend's number from your contacts list on the phone. Requiring people to have to go look at a website is bit impractical.

Next up would be to make more use of the geolocation information. We all now use mobile phones all the time as 'just-in-time' walkie-talky style devices to locate a friend in a crowd or at a specific point in an only vaguely-specified meeting point. This might be made a whole lot easier if your phone could tell you how far away, in metres, your friend was, and in which direction. Kind of like two magnets finding each other...

More imaginatively, the combination of camera + geolocation is interesting. The N96 now stores GPS co-ordinates in the Exif data of captured photos (if available, and set up to do so), which can then be uploaded to sites like Flickr. But this is still publishing, or 'push', whereas the mobile web server now also lets you do 'pull'. If a load of people agreed to constantly make their GPS co-ordinates available, you could view them all on a map, and then when something interesting happens, select the people nearest that event and request them to go take a photo. A kind of distributed, on-demand, human powered CCTV system...

Or is that a frankly frightening prospect?

Anyhow, if you want to check out my mobile website for yourself, the following badge indicates when it's online (and I make no guarantees for its uptime!)