Microsoft Vine

I’ve just had a chance to take a look at a new piece of Microsoft software called Vine.  The service aims to provide a useful mashup of existing services — Facebook, Twitter, SMS, email, and more — to allow users to send and receive critical information about natural disasters. While the main interface is a downloadable Windows app, you can also send and recieve alerts via email or on your mobile.

The idea is that while users can alert other users much more easily through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the signal to noise ratio is pretty poor. Twitter’s search feature for Swine Flu, for example, reveals both crackpot theories and legitimate information. Vine hopes to provide an improved solution in two key ways.

Firstly, launching with a multitude of legitimate media sources (over 20,000), including news sites and official public safety agents, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there will always be a voice of reason to rely on. Secondly, being able to screen alerts by contacts will allow users to keep to a safe zone of users they trust. It’ll be interesting to see what other features Vine will develop in the near future, and whether it will be able to find the sweet spot between use as an disaster-ready survival tool and an everyday planner and communicator.

Right now though, Microsoft’s aim is the emergency services community. Emergency service operators have been interested in utilizing social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter for some time now, but have had to rely on hard-to-parse text streams. With the recent news that Google saw an increase of flu related searches before the Swine Flu epidemic was recently known, Microsoft Vine looks set to be another great humanitarian use of a web service.

Right now the Vine Beta is only running in Seattle, Washington, and other select communities. It’ll probably be made available fairly shortly, particularly if the Swine Flu epidemic gets much worse. To apply to join the Vine Beta or read more, visit the official Vine website. Vine has also been covered by TechFlash, TechCrunch and the Seattle Times.

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