Separate development efforts were disclosed this week using the Extensible
Markup Language (XML) to ease
creation of database-driven Web
applications and enable the exchange of
data between disparate servers.
The World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C) said
it submitted XML-Data, a proposed
specification from Microsoft, ArborText,
Inso and DataChannel.
XML-Data adds some important
data-handling functionality to XML,
including the addition of object-oriented
programming concepts to the
ASCII-based language. Those concepts include
inheritance, strong data-typing and
validation, according to Norbert H.
Mikula, DataChannel's senior online
information architect, and a pioneer in
the XML space.
In a separate effort disclosed today, a
group of partners, including Vignette,
Firefly, JavaSoft and several
content-oriented companies, said they
are working on an Information and
Content and Exchange (ICE), specification.
ICE is an XML application for enabling
server-to-server data exchange,
including the buying, selling and sharing
of content and user profiles between
sites, said Brad Husick, vice president
of business development at Vignette.
Vignette also detailed upcoming
versions of its StoryServer product that
include XML support.
The two efforts continue the march
forward of XML, which has emerged as
a key language for building
next-generation applications that use
meta-content to describe, deliver and
distribute data across the Internet.
Of the two efforts unveiled this week,
XML-Data is designed more to enhance
the "plumbing" of the XML specification,
while ICE is a higher-level application
framework that could potentially make
use of XML-Data if it does indeed
become a standard.
XML-Data is mainly about the definition
of so-called schemas, which allow one
application to receive data from another,
without having any prior built-in
description of the data structure, said
Schemas define the rules of an XML
document, including element names,
which elements can appear in
combination, and which attributes are
available to each element.
An example of a schema provided by
DataChannel goes like this: The
definition of an employee record, which
consists of Name, Address, Social
Security Number and Employee
Another important feature of XML-Data
is data-typing, which lets databases and
XML engines know the format in which a
certain element is stored. For instance,
a name is a string of characters; a social
security number is a string of integers. That
eases the processing and exchange of
XML-defined data, said Mikula.
Some of the functions of XML-Data are
available today in Definition
Type Declarations (DTDs). DTDs provide a set
of rules that help define an XML (or
SGML) document, but lack the
data-centric functionality of XML-Data.
"This is a good step," said J.P.
Morgenthal, analyst with NC Focus.
"Until now, all schemas were required to
be in separate DTD documents. Now
the schema can be included directly as
part of the XML document. This makes
for much easier creation of dynamic
data structures when exporting data from
With improved data handling enabled by
XML-Data, "you'll see in the next few
months dozens of applications pop up
that do data interchange over the Internet
in very sophisticated ways," predicted
Aiming to provide an even richer
framework for distributed, XML-based
Web applications is the ICE group. Led
in part by content providers such as
Cnet, Preview Travel and Tribune
Media Services, ICE hopes to not only
enable distributed data exchange using
XML, but tackle the problems of trust
and privacy as well, explained Vignette's
The power of ICE, said Husick, is that it
automates a number of online
applications that either aren't feasible or
are technically difficult today, including
online "superstores" combining content
and commerce from multiple sites;
syndicated publishing, where sites
seamlessly republish content from
others; and online reseller channels,
where a single site resells services or
products from many others, often in a
Husick described Cnet's Snap online
service -- a Vignette customer -- as
a classic example of this kind of
cut-and-paste e-commerce. Snap
produces just 10 percent of its content
itself, and licenses the rest from a variety
of partners with which it has to craft not
only business partnerships but
technology solutions as well for
transferring data between Web sites.
ICE could automate the data exchange
and build on top of it a layer of content
and user profiling to yield an even richer
user experience, Husick said.
In addition to XML, ICE leverages the
proposed Open Profiling Standard
(OPS) and related privacy
work in the W3C's Platform for Privacy
Preferences Project (P3P) working
group, said Saul Klein, senior vice
president at Firefly.
"ICE is attempting to bridge the gaps
between XML and P3P," said Klein,
who noted that the ICE group is not yet
a formal W3C Working Group, nor has it
submitted its work to the W3C as a
potential standard, though that is
While neither Microsoft nor Netscape
are on board the ICE train yet, Klein and
Husick strongly hinted they may be
soon, noting that the two leading
browser vendors are members of both
the XML and P3P working groups.
"Where ICE is focused is on intelligent
exchange of information based on
business rules and trusted
relationships," said Husick. "It's all well
and good for data to be whizzing about
the place, described in standard
formats. But then let's look at the way
individuals, developers and business
want to use this stuff."