Microsoft Vine: An inebriated approach to emergencies


Microsoft Vine is a programme and service I first saw demonstrated at Microsoft HQ in Redmond two weeks ago. Since then it’s gone to a public beta for testers around Seattle and there are some reports that Facebook integration is present and Twitter integration planned. However, all throughout the presentation in Redmond and now looking at the Vine website, I’m wondering, what makes this special over existing technologies like Facebook, Twitter, Mesh4X, Evolve, FrontlineSMS or Ushahidi?

Vine’s website notes,

Get involved to create great communities. Use alerts, reports and your personal dashboard to stay in touch, informed and involved.

Almost perfectly describes Facebook doesn’t it? In typical Microsoft fashion, this is bloatware that only runs on, you guessed it, Windows. This is not even a mobile application – you need a PC to use it (even though there is a way through which mobiles can text or email updates to it). And Microsoft claims that this is an emergency response tool?!

There is nothing in Vine that you cannot already do with a combination of Ushahidi’s proximity alerts and the path-breaking SMS based forms updates from FrontlineSMS. Having met with the best and brightest of Microsoft Research, key members of the team behind Vine and the team behind the new version of Sharepoint and Groove, Microsoft have nothing that comes close to the capabilities  of FrontlineSMS today with regards to forms based data transfers over SMS in austere conditions, which is precisely what is needed for decision support mechanisms and alerting post-crises.

To make things worse, here’s a product demo for Vine here that sadly isn’t very helpful. No sound, no narration, low resolution – c’mon Microsoft, are you this bad at selling ideas?!

A news report on Vine has this to say,

It’s unclear where Vine could end up within Microsoft when it graduates into a full blown business, but it’s mostly likely to complement Microsoft’s suite of e-government software and its Sharepoint collaboration server.

Local officials who have seen the project are enthusiastic about what they’ve seen, but they’re waiting to see how it works and whether it’s widely accepted. Another big question is the cost, especially if Microsoft charges a significant amount for every home and business in their jurisidiction that uses the system.

“They’ve been talking about a few dollars per user ID for a period of time, maybe a month or a year,” said Seattle’s chief technology officer, Bill Schrier. “That doesn’t sound like much but if you spread it out across 300,000 premises, that’s a fair chunk of change.”

So Vine has no clear future or final release date. On the other hand, Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, Twitter and Facebook, not to mention Evolve, Swift River and Mesh4X are all mature, robust products and services or those that are in active development with clearly delineated roadmaps.

Vine’s possible future is enmeshed with Sharepoint. Great for those who already run Sharepoint and can afford it. Useless for those who don’t, can’t and are not interested in it.

A few dollars per user ID? Sorry Microsoft, that’s just a rip-off. Google Maps mashups plus Google Latitude alone, along with other location aware, mobile phone based services like Brightkite in the US already have much of this functionality today, or can be easily adapted for the purpose of emergency response in the same sort of context Microsoft is pitching Vine to. The cost – free.

The same news report notes,

Inspiration for Vine came from the confusion during Hurricane Katrina. Tammy Savage, a Microsoft manager who has led experimental Web efforts for the company, spent two years researching technologies for communities to communicate and prepare for emergencies. That led to a concept Microsoft calls “societal networking.”… “We don’t want to re-create things that already exist,” she said. “We’re looking for the opportunities that are particularly appropriate for Microsoft to bring its resources to bear.”

Tammy’s thought-leadership are commendable and I do not for a moment doubt that she and others on the Vine team are driven by a shared committment to help in inter-agency coordination and collaboration during emergencies. But I’m sorry Tammy, you ARE recreating things that already exist, and doing a bad job to boot. And how original is ‘societal networking’?

I am always amazed at how Microsoft is able to commodify half-baked, under-performing, behind the curve software. Vine today is a great example of outmoded bloatware searching for relevance, the output of an ageing company sadly inured to the type of innovation that defines Ushahidi or even InSTEDD.

That’s a pity, because if Tammy really did bring Microsoft’s significant resources to bear on emergency response, it would be something wonderful.

6 thoughts on “Microsoft Vine: An inebriated approach to emergencies

  1. “In typical Microsoft fashion, this is bloatware that only runs on, you guessed it, Windows”

    So what? I fail to understand why Microsoft continue to get panned when they only make s/w for Windows . Its THEIR platform for gods sake, why would they bother making it for anything else?

  2. Great criticisms! though I don’t think we have any problem with oversaturation of this space. Their design work may replicate some functionality, but we all need that, and we can learn so much from their failures and successes.

    Even if they are bloody Microsoft. 🙂

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