Microsoft Vine looks like an odd social experiment. It's designed to help users send notifications to the people they need to reach in emergencies. I tried the product and found it very un-Microsoft-like. It's useless as a single-user app, and it's also oddly specific in its functionality. From Microsoft, I expect broad platforms and wide-open productivity tools. Vine is neither.
Or is it? I took my questions to Microsoft, and was routed to a person whose title made it clear that there's more going on with Vine than the product initially reveals. I ended up talking with Tammy Savage, general manager of the Microsoft Public Safety Initiative.
At its core, Vine is based on a new Microsoft platform for routing communications between different systems. The platform is built to know the various ways there are to reach anyone using it, and it tries multiple methods until it gets its message through.
For example, some emergency messages might go to users' e-mail accounts or be sent as text messages. Some may go to regular telephones, and will get converted from text to speech if necessary. If one communication method goes down (if calls can't go through after a big disaster, for instance) the platform routes messages over another until they reach enough people to satisfy the requirements of the message.
Rules dictate to whom a message goes. An emergency message to check on a child when a parent is unable to after an earthquake, for example, might only require one person who gets the message to reply to it in the affirmative to satisfy the rule. A note about a kids' soccer game being canceled due to a muddy field would keep bouncing through the system until all the parents got it.
To keep the product in front of users, so they don't forget about when they need it, Vine also lets you track local news, and it can be used it to "check in" when you're traveling, even if you're not in the middle of an emergency.