Microsoft hitting the social web

Redmond (WA) – Microsoft launched a private beta of Vine, its new downloadable service designed to allow small organizations and groups to share and trade private information. Users are able to send information, issue Twitter and Facebook-like updates, and keep up with contacts on the service. Vine is available for computers running Windows XP with SP2, as well as Windows Vista 32- and 64-bit versions.

The private beta is currently open to 10,000 individuals based in the Seattle area. According to the Seattle Times, there are future beta tests planned for undisclosed locations in the Midwest and an isolated island community.

Though it seems like just another social network, Microsoft wants to make it clear that Vine was designed to organize and share information between organizations like church groups, sports teams, charities, political groups, neighborhoods, families, or small companies; it is considered a “social-networking tool”.

Vine works via a downloaded “dashboard” application in which users access using their Windows Live account. The interface looks much like a map, and geographically pertinent information and notifications pop up if a news story or public safety announcement occurs within a specific area. These alerts are sourced from over 20,000 news venues, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is up to the users which areas are covered.

A user’s contacts are listed on the  personal dashboard, and allows users to see alerts and messages the individual has sent out. Additionally, users can keep track of Facebook status messages, and send communication to neighbors and friends in real-time. For instance if you’ve been traveling and have arrived, you can let your neighbor know.  Users have the ability to decide who can contact them, and whom they wish to contact.

Using the report section from Vine you can spread the word using four simple message templates: keep people informed of situations that matter, tell someone you’re safe, out of town or vacation messages, and just general information. Reports can be utilized to share news, events and schedules.

In the future, Microsoft intends to incorporate more methods of interaction into the Vine service including Twitter, landline phones, and devices for special needs individuals. The concept behind the service is that it would allow people to interact in a more natural method. The inspiration from Vine came following the mass confusion that arose following Hurricane Katrina, the company said.

If the service is capable of doing everything it has advertised, the company might have created a powerful tool. At present, the company has not released any information regarding plans to monetize Vine.  However, the company does say that the basic service will be available for free, and access via a smartphone will come at a premium.

Are we willing to pay for social networking?