Microsoft has just launched a new product called Vine into private beta. The service connects Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, email, and other forms of communication into one system for the purpose of keeping people connected during a crisis situation. The idea came to Microsoft manager Tammy Savage back after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. She realized we needed more tools that would allow communities and people to communicate with each other during emergencies. After spending years on its development, the end result is Vine, although today the application’s current status is private beta because they’re now hoping to get feedback on the product while improvements are still being made.
How Vine Works
What Vine does is gather news from 20,000 local and national sources, including public safety announcements from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It then displays those news items to you on a map of your area.
In addition, Vine displays the Facebook status updates of your friends and family, including their location if they permit that info to be shared. Twitter and other social networking sites will be added as well, but are not currently present at launch time. Also planned for the future is traditional phone integration. Once added, people will be able to send and receive messages using automated voice technology.
In the event of an emergency, a Vine user could send out an alert to a specific contact list (e.g. “Family,” “Friends,” etc.). Those receiving the alert would do so using whatever format they had chosen – an email or text message for example. Another option for sharing alerts involves linking Vine to Facebook to send the alerts as a Facebook status updates that everyone can see. There’s also a desktop software component that could be used – it currently works on Vista or XP computers, but future integrations are planned, including Mac and Silverlight platforms. Recipients can then reply to the alert using that same format, if desired.
Users can also post longer reports than the simple alerts described above. At launch time, there are four pre-designated report types available: check in safe and well, report upcoming plans, report a situation, or general information. These reports are posted to the dashboards of the contacts you shared with.
Although originally designed for sharing critical information in a crisis, Vine would not be limited to just that. It’s easy to imagine how it could be used for non-emergency types of information sharing, too. For example, a team coach could alert team members of the date and time of their next practice. A parent could alert other family members that they had to work late that day.
Vine is Not a New Form of Twitter
The new service isn’t being designed to compete with the social networks that are already in place – it’s designed to augment and embrace them by connecting them all together for communication purposes.
While in beta, Seattle area organizations including Citizen Corps, AmeriCorps, Neighborhood Watch groups and others will help test the system. Security departments at Boeing and Microsoft will be involved in the private beta, too.