Microsoft 'Vine' to link Facebook, other tools into system of alerts
Microsoft is testing a new product called Vine that aims to connect Facebook, Twitter, text messages, traditional phone calls, email and other forms of communication into a system for sending and receiving urgent information during natural disasters. It could also come in handy during more mundane emergencies - such as making sure someone is picking up the kids from school.
The company launched Vine as a limited beta test, accepting invitation requests at www.vine.net. The company plans to build Vine into a business over time by offering premium services in addition to a free, basic offering. However, Microsoft says it's not trying to compete with existing social networking sites or other forms of online communications.
"We intend this to be a service of services - to not replace social networking tools that exist today, but embrace them," said Tammy Savage, Microsoft Vine general manager. "Our approach to this is that we're the integration layer."
Even so, the Vine application could be perceived as a threat to existing social networking services if people use it as a centralized, everyday interface for sending and receiving messages and gathering information across different sites. Asked if that's part of the goal, Savage said the company is treating the beta as a true market test, with details of the final offering depending largely on the results.
As part of the Vine beta, Microsoft is working with Citizen Corps., AmeriCorps, Neighborhood Watch groups and other organizations in the Seattle region to get their members access to Vine to test the system to communicate with each other and receive reports. Security departments at Boeing and Microsoft also are expected to take part.
The beta is launching with just some of the functionality Microsoft envisions in the long run. People will be able to receive alerts in email, text messaging or the Vine application on Windows computers. (The software, which provides a communications dashboard, requires Windows Vista or Windows XP for now.) Users will also be able to link their Facebook accounts to Vine to have their status updates show up in the system.
Beyond the beta, in the first full version, Microsoft plans to build deeper integration with Facebook and other social networking tools, such as Twitter. The company also plans to bring traditional phones into the mix, letting people send and receive messages using automated voice technology.
"Our intent is to integrate those social-networking sites that are popular today, but also set this up so that we can integrate the social networking site that emerges next year," Savage said.