ICE Breaker

October 29, 1998

Dale Dougherty

New XML-based Protocol for Content Syndication

San Francisco -- An 80-member group of content providers and tools vendors broke out ICE 1.0 (Information and Content Exchange), a standard way of syndicating content on the Internet.

ICE is a specialized transaction protocol for automating the distribution of content among business partners. It uses XML to define the format of messages that are sent between servers to negotiate a content transaction, which typically involves downloading a designated package of content for an agreed-upon price. An ICE syndication server runs in tandem with a content management system, from which content is extracted for distribution, and into which incoming content is integrated.

Syndication describes a variety of potential network-based partnerships that involve the exchange of information. According to Brad Husick, vice president of business development for Vignette, network partnerships are business opportunities that have been hard to take advantage of. Content syndication, which is well known in the publishing industry, has been difficult online because it has required setting up a unique process for each partner, which is costly. ICE helps to establish a standard interface between the syndicator and all its partners, and thus makes it easier for a syndicator to support a large number of partners. "ICE takes syndication from being an engineering issue (which is expensive, requiring lots of one-offs) to an operational issue, which means it can scale," said Laird Popkin, chair of the ICE Authoring Group and CTO at News Internet Services.

Dan Woods, CTO of, said that his financial site has syndication relationships for distributing their content through other sites, such as Intuit, Schwab and Yahoo. Syndication is a way to find additional audiences and new revenue for their content. "ICE will allow us to focus on content creation and avoid the costs of building our own content distribution infrastructure."

Distribution Channels

Originally, sites traded links. Link to me and I'll link to you. Seldom did this informal relationship have a business agreement behind it, although its goal was to generate traffic.

ICE helps sites exchange content with each other, instead of just links, and it establishes a mechanism for building a business relationship around content distribution. Ultimately, this will lead to new distribution channels on the Web, and help all kinds of online businesses succeed.

Rick Levine, a Web architect at Sun Microsystems said that "ICE goes beyond editorial syndication" and may involve a network of information interchange among a company, its suppliers and distributors or resellers. Lee Fife of Fasterwater LLP described these relationships as Internet value networks. For instance, a manufacturer might use ICE to distribute up-to-date product information to a distributor, who integrates this information into a catalog for their customers. Phil Gibson, director of Interactive Marketing at National Semiconductor said that ICE can be seen as "a generic content replication scheme."

Vignette, one of the leaders of the ICE effort, and other tools vendors are building servers that implement the ICE protocol. The Vignette Syndication Server consists of a Distribution Manager that allows the syndicator to specify which content packages are available on the site; a Subscription Manager that allows the partners to review what the syndicator offers; and Syndication Agent that runs on the partner site and conducts an ICE transaction. This Java-based agent contacts the syndicator and automatically retrieves the content and unpacks it, making it available to the content management system. The Vignette Syndication Server is scheduled for release in Q1 1999 and will cost around $50,000.

ICE does not specify the format of the content itself, which could be anything from plain text to HTML or XML. ICE is a bi-directional, request-response protocol in which XML-based messages are exchanged between two different systems to conduct the transaction.

On the same day as the ICE press conference, the World Wide Web Consortium acknowledged that the ICE submission was under review.