Is Microsoft taking a public-service cue from Google? The Redmond, WA, corporation has just released the private beta of Vine, a tool for keeping track of your family and friends during an emergency. The Vine dashboard is conceived as a way of keeping in communication during an emergency situation, but can also be used for organizing groups or sharing information, including Facebook status updates, with your network. The desktop dashboard is a geo-localized map showing your contacts’ location and alerts or status updates. Vine also sends location-specific reports from over 20,000 local and national news services and public service organizations such as the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited


Users can send and receive alerts via email, text or the PC dashboard (and yes, it’s PC – Vine is only available on Microsoft platforms for the moment, which could seriously hinder mass adoption).

Microsoft calls this kind of community-organization service “societal networking.” It intends to eventually integrate Vine with Twitter, landline phones and special needs devices.

Vine was conceived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Microsoft manager Tammy Page spent four years researching community communication and emergency-preparation technologies and developing Vine’s platform. Page developed Vine under the guidance of Craig Mundie, who was named Monday to President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisory Council.

Vine is currently in private Beta, limited to 10,000 people in the Seattle area, where it will be well positioned to track the return of the 4400. After Seattle, Vine will be tested in an undisclosed Midwestern area and an isolated island community.

With Facebook releasing its API yesterday, Vine could be facing some tough competition in the real-time network-management market.

By Mark Alvarez