Microsoft today announced the closing of the Vine emergency meta news and social network service that they had announced in April 2009. No specific reason was given:
Despite positive feedback from customers like you over the course of Vine’s private beta, Microsoft has made the decision to discontinue Microsoft Vine effective October 11, 2010. After this date, you will no longer be able to access Microsoft Vine. We suggest that you record any contact information currently stored in Vine, prior to October 11th.
I frankly found the concept more than a trifle dubious at the time it was announced, but chalked it up as some sort of public service and public relations effort. That has now been ended.
Microsoft revealed a private beta in the Seattle area of the Microsoft Vine social networking service yesterday and it is more than a trifle odd:
Microsoft has just launched a new product called Vine into private beta. The service connects Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, email, and other forms of communication into one system for the purpose of keeping people connected during a crisis situation.
The new service isn’t being designed to compete with the social networks that are already in place – it’s designed to augment and embrace them by connecting them all together for communication purposes.
Er, OK – it’s meta social network. So what’s the point?
What Vine does is gather news from 20,000 local and national sources, including public safety announcements from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It then displays those news items to you on a map of your area.
OK – it’s a location sensitive news service similar to what most local TV station websites offer.
In addition, Vine displays the Facebook status updates of your friends and family, including their location if they permit that info to be shared. Twitter and other social networking sites will be added as well, but are not currently present at launch time. Also planned for the future is traditional phone integration. Once added, people will be able to send and receive messages using automated voice technology.
In the event of an emergency, a Vine user could send out an alert to a specific contact list (e.g. “Family,” “Friends,” etc.). Those receiving the alert would do so using whatever format they had chosen – an email or text message for example. Another option for sharing alerts involves linking Vine to Facebook to send the alerts as a Facebook status updates that everyone can see. There’s also a desktop software component that could be used – it currently works on Vista or XP computers, but future integrations are planned, including Mac and Silverlight platforms. Recipients can then reply to the alert using that same format, if desired.
There’s more by following the link, but I’m still scratching my head. In most major emergencies the power is going to be out and folks will have more important things to do than fool around online. If you have power it might save a few keystrokes, I guess, but it hardly seems compelling and neither do the suggestions for nonemergency uses like sending notifications to a mailing list.
If that was all, one could chalk up Vine as a nice but ineffectual public service effort on Microsoft’s part, but Jessi Hempel reports at Fortune that Vine is Microsoft’s attempt to make social networking pay because it actually incorporates a paid subscription service:
… chief strategist Craig Mundie tells Fortune the company is planning on pursuing a subscription-based model instead of trying to support the platform only with advertising. … And he says he is optimistic that Microsoft can crack the code for making money off social networks.
Microsoft says it would make basic service available free, but would charge for premium services, such as access to the platform via smart phone. The world soon will know if consumers are willing to pay for social networking, or if the subscription model is destined to die on the vine.
Pardon the mixed metaphor, but I wonder if even the Seattle/Redmond private beta will get tire kickers for this turkey, much more anywhere else.