Vignette and Firefly propose the ICE protocol

March 10, 1998

Victor Votsch

The Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol. 2, No. 7

Vignette, Firefly propose protocol for managing content, user information

March, 1998 by Victor Votsch

Syndicating content on the Web should become much easier from a production standpoint as a result of a new consortium of vendors and publishers. The group, led by Vignette and Firefly, is developing the Information Content and Exchange (ICE) protocol, an XML application designed to facilitate the exchange and management of content and transaction- oriented data among Web sites. Other members of the ICE consortium include Microsoft, Adobe, Javasoft, Cnet, Hollinger International, News Internet Services, National Semiconductor, Tribune Media Services and Ziff- Davis.

The ICE architecture is intended to define business rules that would support data exchange among sites without manual file manipulation or knowledge of the remote directory structures. Data tagged according the ICE protocol will pass from the original publisher to partner sites, where it can be processed, loaded into a repository and resold under the licensee’s own user interface.

Rules could also be set to define how user profiles are passed among partners. This would enable content “rings” to use the same profile-- with the appropriate permission of the user to deliver customized information.

The ICE protocol will be compliant with the Open Profiling Standard (OPS) championed by Firefly, Netscape and Verisign. OPS is currently being considered by the Platform for Privacy Preferences working group at the W3C.

Getting organized. The ICE consortium is still in the process of getting organized. Vignette and Firefly are holding preliminary meetings to rough out a working draft before the group meets as a whole. Early reports indicate that the spec will be submitted to the W3C for approval within four months. After that, the approval process is expected to take one year.

Join the syndicate. In its simplest form, the ICE protocol will be a boon to content syndication. Having a standard protocol should lower the development costs for electronic products, increase automation and increase the number of potential partners for licensing content.

For those who syndicate content or supply it to secondary services, an industry standard would be a welcome change from the current practice of supplying content in different formats through different transfer methods to different customers. The

ICE spec should also help to solidify conventions for encoding metadata, such as embargo or kill dates. The licensees will also benefit: Receiving the source in a neutral yet richly tagged format should aid their process of aggregating and adding editorial value to content that they buy and subsequently sell.

Content syndication on the Web promises to expand publishers’ electronic sales by making it easier to license the same material to multiple sources. For example, a movie critic’s collection of reviews could be licensed to multiple cable television networks, to local cable providers for pay- per- view applications and to city guide sites for theatrical listings.

Analysis. While the success of ICE isn’t guaranteed, we think that some form of standardized content meta- tagging and exchange is going to be a major application of XML. Commerce is starting to drive the Web, and a method for automating the exchange of information based on defined rules is vital for turning Web- based content into a serious business.

There are existing methods for defining business rules, most notably EDI (the Electronic Data Interchange standard). But EDI remains difficult to implement and focuses more on transferring invoices and money than it does on content. That’s not surprising, given the fact that EDI has been around for 20 years and its notion of “content” resembles discrete static blobs.

The Web offers additional opportunities to deliver content that is dynamic and personalized. Content (including advertising) can now be customized to the nth degree, even to the point where it has far more value than the original data in the repository.

Establishing a uniform way to handle cross- site distribution and management of content will greatly reduce the labor required to create and maintain state- ofthe- art sites. It seems inevitable that some standard based on XML will be adopted, but it’s premature to assume that it will be ICE.

The Web has always been standard- driven. Often there has been a good deal of give-and-take in the process of establishing standards, with the final result only faintly resembling the original proposal.

Currently, ICE has the heavy hands of Vignette and Firefly all over it. Most of the participants are customers of one or both companies. Microsoft’s interest in the consortium should help get the spec through the political minefields that accompany any effort to establish a standard. Clearly, wider support is going to be necessary for the consortium’s efforts to be successful.

Anyone interested in the spec can register at to receive a copy when it becomes available.