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Microsoft Vine to offer emergency social network

Beta Windows widget tracks users' status online

Microsoft Vine beta screenshot

Microsoft has unveiled the beta version of Vine, a location-based social networking app, designed to let you stay in touch with friends and family in the event of an emergency.

The Windows desktop widget could become an alternative to Facebook and Twitter for organising, staying in contact, and sharing information with groups of people in specific geographical areas. 

One potential critical application for Vine is to provide a simple reliable method of communication in the event of a local, national or international disaster, such as the global swine flu situation

The Vine widget aggregates data from local news sources and other users. According to the Vine factsheet, the software will ‘cull articles from 20,000 local and national news sources, as well as public safety announcements’. Users – your friends and relatives – can post short ‘alerts’ or longer ‘reports’ to it via SMS and email, and it is claimed to integrate with Facebook, and in the future, Twitter.

Vine widget shows emergency map and contact status

Vine could also be used in non-emergency communication, and Microsoft gives examples of co-ordinating sports teams, school committees, volunteer groups or faith-based groups. The Vine widget displays a map of the user’s community and the status of their contacts.

Which? has expert reviews of social networking websites,.

Which? tech expert Al Warman said: ‘There have already been incidents where people have used Twitter to communicate in an emergency, despite this not being its original purpose.

‘It will be interesting to see what Microsoft can deliver with its Vine social networking widget, and whether users will sign up to yet another application to keep track of their friends.’

The free Microsoft beta test of Vine will be open to 10,000 people in the Seattle area from May 2009, but if you’re interested in Vine updates you can sign up at http://www.vine.net. There are also printable Vine emergency cards to carry with you in case you need to send alerts to your emergency contacts.

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