Microsoft Vine: Social Networking Now Saves LivesPretend for a minute that you’re not already up to your ears in social networks and take a look at a new offering from Microsoft (news, site). Aptly named Vine, the social tool is designed to connect strings of people for the specific purpose of passing along news.

But this ain’t no140 character good time. Fashioned as a sort of life-support system, Vine’s shtick is to connect users with the people and places they care about the most, when it matters the most: in times of crisis.

Communication is Key

The service was originally inspired by the communication difficulties that arose during Hurricane Katrina. Wanting a better solution in the event of a similar catastrophe, a Microsoft general manager named Tammy Savage began examining ways to help communities ready themselves for disasters.

Today the outcome of that need is in the form of Vine Beta, which currently operates through three types of communication: e-mails, text messages and alerts through Vine’s client software.

Intended for all sorts of tough situations, the service can be used in the event of a hurricane or an earthquake, or for something more routine like alerting members of your community when a local event has been canceled.

Vine users can send a single alert to a preset list of contacts who would then receive the message in whatever form they choose. In the future, Microsoft plans to integrate Twitter, Facebook and even landline telephones alerts.

If it Looks Like a Social Network and Acts Like a Social Network…

Vine developers insist that the service is not meant to replace popular social networks like Twitter and Facebook, even though there are plans to include them.

"We intend this to be a service of services -- to not replace social networking tools that exist today, but embrace them," said Savage, "Our approach to this is that we're the integration layer."

Microsoft’s efforts to differentiate Vine include debuting with data feeds from more than 20,000 media sources and public safety organizations, including NOAA and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Even so, Vine could very well be perceived as competition if people end up using it as a centralized, everyday communication tool. Though the aim is clearly intended toward disaster relief, what purpose the application will most commonly serve is still to be seen. After all, Twitter didn't start off as the anti-social networking tool it's sometimes referred to as today. Accordingly, when asked if social networking competition was at least part of the application's goal, Savage replied that the final offering would depend largely on the results of the beta test. 

Disaster is a Hot Ticket?

Microsoft isn't the only company interested in developing tools for the greater good of your community. Last month Seattle based former Microsoft head, Cameron Ferroni, said, "We are building an online service to help people communicate and make better decisions during natural disasters and weather-related emergencies.”

Nothing solid has come from Ferroni’s project yet, but if you’d like to jump on the possible up coming disaster-avoiding social train, you can do so by signing up for a Vine invitation here.