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Microsoft Vine Ties Emergency Info to Social Web

Microsoft Vine

In a major emergency, many people still turn to AM stations, amateur radio and word-of-mouth to pass along critical information such as locations of problem areas, what types of relief is needed and where it's available, as well as the condition of friends and loved ones.

Now Microsoft is about to beta test its own early response application -- one integrating Web 2.0 technology.

Dubbed Vine -- as in "grapevine" -- the new application aims to let users quickly plug into emergency information, relay that to friends and family, and to notify them that they are OK.

Vine ties together social tools like Twitter and Facebook with e-mails and text messaging, Internet-connected computer systems, wireless devices, and phones. The system provides a "dashboard" where users can look at maps of affected areas, locate and exchange alerts with friends and relatives, as well as get the latest news and emergency bulletins.

However, while Vine is designed to provide emergency services, Microsoft also touts the new service's ability to coordinate all kinds of groups and not just in major emergencies. For instance, say the kids' soccer game was moved at the last minute: The Vine system could be used to quickly notify all the affected parents, coaches and players -- wherever they are and whatever device they're using.

The dashboard enables users to view maps of the affected areas as well as lists of people the user cares. It also features buttons for sending alerts or making reports, and links to news sources and emergency organizations.

"Information associated with the places you have chosen will appear on your map, including articles culled from 20,000 local and national news sources as well as public safety announcements from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)," said a whitepaper posted on the product's site.

Initially, the beta will only be tested in the U.S. and only by invitation. The Seattle Times reported that the first beta test area will be -- surprise -- Seattle, beginning April 28, with expansion later into other areas.

It's not surprising that Microsoft's Vine would have a social network tie-in with Facebook. After all, the company has a long-standing advertising partnership with the social firm. In addition, Microsoft spent $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook in October 2007.

Interested users can request an invitation to join the beta test by visiting the Vine site. The site also provides more information as well as a demo of how the service works.

Users need to download the Vine application, which runs on Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) and Windows Vista. XP users will only be able to run Vine on the 32-bit version of the OS, while Vista users can use either the 32-bit or 64-bit version. The CPU needs to run at least at 1GHz. One GB of RAM is needed to run the Vista version while 512 MB is needed for XP. The PC needs 100 GB of hard disk space for the application and another 500 MB for .NET Framework 3.5 SP1.

Vine will run under Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, or on Firefox 3.0 or later.

Microsoft said the beta is free except for carrier messaging costs.

"Organizations and individuals will be able to purchase additional services in the future," a statement on the site said, although the company did not reveal what those may be.