Keep informed and stay in touch with friends and family

microsoft vineTechnology has fueled a revolution in the way we communicate and stay in touch with those we care about. In work and play, technology is there to capture the moments and bridge the gaps of time and space.

But in the midst of emergencies or even simple daily problems like a change in schedule, somehow technology doesn’t quite seem to be the thing that usually brings all the pieces together. That is about to all change, thanks to Microsoft’s future-facing project – Vine.

What is Microsoft Vine

Microsoft Vine, in simple English, is a web based service that lets you form groups of people (who you think are most important to you like your close friends, family members or even your trusted neighbors) and it provides a way for you to contact any of these groups at the same time through email, text messages, and even social networking. The software is designed to make our loved ones only a click or text away at any time.

Whether you need to inform your members that your car just broke down or need to send a message to your friends that your child’s birthday party has been rescheduled, Vine lets you send that message using your preferred method of communication and all the people who you want to send the message to will receive it in the method of their choice as well.

Microsoft Vine therefore acts like a bridge between all of your most important contacts and the diverse communications platforms that they use be it email, mobile phones, IM or something else.

Getting Started with Microsoft Vine

After you sign-up for Microsoft Vine using your Windows Live ID, you will be directed to download the Vine software to your computer.

Microsoft Vine interface

Although the service is web-centric, the initial setup needs to be done through a beautiful and modern-looking desktop application. The Vine program works on Windows XP, Vista, and 7, and it downloads and installs very quickly even on slower internet connections and older computers.

Once your Vine network is set up, you can send and receive messages either through the desktop application or through email and text messaging (on mobile phones). Here’s a screenshot of Vine’s beautiful interface that takes advantage of Aero glass when running on Windows Vista or 7.

Once you have installed the application, you can proceed to mark locations on a world map that are important to you (via Add Places), invite important people to join your Vine network, and then arrange these people into groups that will be target groups for your messages.

Vine allows each person to specify their address, home, phone number, email address, and social network credentials.   Currently it only supports Facebook, Windows Live, and LinkedIn, but Microsoft plans to extend support to other services including Twitter, MySpace, and instant messaging.

The Vine application then shows a map with your locations, and shows alerts when there is a news or weather alert item for your area.   Below the map it shows a grid with all of your important contacts as a pin that designates where they are and what group they belong to.

If one of your contacts sends out an alert, then it will show beside their pin.   Then, through the application you can send an alert to either a specific person, group, or to all of your contacts.   You can also post a report from Vine about an upcoming event, which lets you send a message, request people do something, let them know the best way to get hold of you, or what your location will be during the event.

Vine is not a Social Networking Tool

So is Vine supposed to replace my existing communications platforms such as email, IM, or social networking?   No, and in fact, Microsoft Vine is designed to extend them.

The idea behind Vine is to make you and those you care about more accessible, no matter what their preferred mode of communication is. Your friends and family members could be using email, text, voice, Instant Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or something else but they can still get in touch quickly in case of emergencies and disasters.

news on world map

Vine also provides a printable index card that you can print and carry in your wallet so someone else can inform your Vine network in an unfortunate event where you get involved in an emergency and are unable to contact people yourself.

How to Send Alerts with Microsoft Vine

Currently, you can send alerts to your friends and family from a mobile phone using text message, as well as from e-mail, or from the Vine application itself.

When you sign up for Vine, you get a secret email address for your group – any message sent to that email address will instantly reach all the group members in the preferred devices.

Alternatively, you may fire up the Vine client on your Windows PC and send alerts from the desktop itself. The Alerts feature can be used for disseminating time-sensitive information and other emergency situations while the Post Report feature is for situations like you reached a destination safely or say you want to share your new contact information with people who care about you.

send messages in Vine

Can I use Microsoft Vine? Will it work in my hometown?

Microsoft Vine is in beta and optimized for use only in the United States. Although you can run the program to send and receive alerts from elsewhere, the text messaging part of Vine and news alerts work only for locations inside the Unites States.

However, Microsoft does plan to expand Vine globally by the time it is fully launched. For now, though, if you do not live in America, you can still sign up and try out the parts of Vine that currently work in your part of the world.

Related: Location Tracking with Google Latitude