April 30, 2009 With the Facebook and Twitter social networking juggernaut rolling ever onward,s Microsoft is looking to jump on the bandwagon with its new social web app called Vine. While sites such as Facebook and Twitter use the global span of the internet to let users connect with people from all corners of the globe, Vine makes its focus local, concentrating on keeping users in touch with family, friends, activities and major events in their community, including disasters and emergencies.
Microsoft commenced a limited beta test of Vine in Seattle this week but, since the final product will be shaped by the results of the beta, details about the service are still a little sketchy. The computer giant does reveal, however, that Vine consists of three key components: alerts, reports and a personal dashboard.
Alerts, which are short messages sent either to another PC or as a text message to a mobile phone, are meant to be used in emergencies. Reports are also short messages but less time-sensitive than alerts. Personal Dashboard is a PC-based widget that displays a map of the user’s local area, the status of any contacts and provides buttons to send alerts and reports. The dashboard will also display communications from your contacts as well as news reports, public safety alerts and reports from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which are overlaid on the map.
Although Microsoft is trumpeting Vine as a tool to keep people informed in an emergency, it’s likely Microsoft is looking keenly at the service's potential for wide appeal. Since Microsoft plans to build deeper integration with Facebook and other social networking tools, such as Twitter, into the first full version on Vine, there is the potential for it be used as a centralized, everyday interface for sending and receiving messages and gathering information from different sites.
While this could be seen as a threat to existing social networking sites, Microsoft is adamant it is not trying to compete. Instead it wants Vine to be a “service of services”, acting as an “integration layer” to embrace and bring these existing services together. While Vine offers a free, basic service, Microsoft is planning to introduce fee-based premium services in the future.
There’s already been interest from local governments and emergency services and, by positioning the service as an integrator instead of looking to replace existing social networking sites, Microsoft is maximizing Vine’s chance of surviving in a highly competitive marketplace.
Microsoft hopes to enlist 10,000 testers for the Seattle beta testing phase. Similar tests will begin shortly in a rural community in the Midwest and an isolated island community, the locations of which haven't been disclosed yet. Any Seattlites interested in trialing Vine can register through the Vine site. Presently the Vine application is only compatible with Windows XP and Vista machines, but there are plans for Mac and Silverlight versions.