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Rumor mill: three stories we expect to write soon

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2011, Gossip

File these rumors under: unconfirmed, but plausible.

Sometimes the gossip is impossible to confirm to the extent that I’m comfortable reporting it as fact, but interesting enough that I think it could use a wider airing.

Here are three examples of Stuff We’ve Heard Recently. Take it all with a great big pinch of salt.

Go Daddy to become a registry

The world’s largest registrar is poised to make an entrance into the registry market, it is whispered.

The rumors don’t go as far as to whether the company plans to apply for some new gTLDs itself, or whether it plans to become a back-end registry services provider, or something else.

But if ICANN’s new relaxed stance on vertical separation means its competitors plan to join the registry space, it seems likely that Go Daddy will want a piece of the action too.

It is already a joint-venture partner in .me registry Domen, though I believe Afilias is responsible for the technical heavy lifting at the back end.

It’s too early to speculate too much, but I’ve written before that Go Daddy is possibly the only registrar likely to catch the attention of competition watchdogs if it decides to vertically integrate.

The official word from Go Daddy when I asked for confirmation a few weeks ago was: “We have no comment and we have no formal announcement pending.”

.pro to be liberalized

Multiple sources say that the restricted .pro gTLD, which has been around but seriously under-used since 2004, is set to begin to undergo a significant liberalization soon.

I’m expecting to see operator RegistryPro, which is now owned by HostWay, file a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN in the next few weeks.

Details are sketchy, but I would not be surprised if the company says it wants to do away with its restrictive registration policy entirely.

Currently, registrants have to provide evidence of professional credentials if they want to register a .pro name, although there’s a huge loophole that allows registrations via credentialed proxies.

RegistryPro hired itself a new CEO, Karim Jiwani, in May, and it’s been broadly predicted that he plans to shake up .pro to make it more of a commercial success.

Its parent may have already put in some of the groundwork for a .jobs-style directory service – HostWay, via a shell company, registered over 40,000 US zip codes in .pro in August 2010.

MarkMonitor gets acquired

This is more speculation than rumor.

There’s a wave of M&A activity in the domain name industry, as companies prepare for introduction of new gTLDs, and one of the potential growth areas is brand management.

With hundreds of new gTLDs likely to launch over a relatively short space of time, companies such as MarkMonitor could find their services in more demand than ever.

Whenever I ask anyone which registrars they think are likely to be hit by the consolidation bug, MarkMonitor is always on the shortlist.

The private company is backed by venture capitalists which will no doubt be looking to execute an exit strategy sooner or later, but the list of potential buyers is quite small.

Consider it a hunch, for now.

RegistryPro gets new CEO

RegistryPro, the .pro top-level domain manager, has appointed Karim Jiwani as its new CEO.

Jiwani seems to have been headhunted from Afilias, where he was senior director of business development. He has over 12 years experience in the business, according to a press release.

The .pro extension is one of those TLDs it’s easy to forget exists, but its recent press releases make it appear like a bit of a dark horse, on an unprecedented growth spurt.

According to its monthly ICANN registry reports, RegistryPro saw a staggering 142% growth in registrations between January 2010 and January 2011, recently passing through the 100,000 domains mark for the first time in its seven-year history.

However, on closer inspection, this uptick was largely due to a bulk registration of over 43,000 domains made via Hostway, RegistryPro’s parent company, last June.

The growth spurt appears to be a direct result of RegistryPro’s reservation of all remaining one, two and three-letter .pro domains, which it is selling off as premium names.

All possible combinations at three characters and under works out to roughly 43,000 domains.

With the new leadership, Hostway also seems to be positioning RegistryPro as a contender in market for providing back-end registry services for new gTLDs. Its CEO, Lucas Roh, said:

Our registry is poised to grow significantly in the coming years, as the awareness continues to grow for .PRO domains and our backend registry services for other TLD’s. We wanted someone that could expertly grow the registry and take it to the next level. Karim has proven experience in the domain industry and is well respected in the community. With his knowledge and passion, he is well equipped to take the company to the next level in providing registry services to registrars and other TLD’s.”

Afilias seems to be a breeding ground for registry CEOs lately. In February, the Public Interest Registry grabbed vice president Brian Cute to head up its .org business.

NameJet to auction three-letter .pro domains

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2010, Domain Sales

NameJet has inked a deal with RegistryPro to auction off eleven “premium” three-letter .pro domain names next month.

The domains themselves have not yet been revealed, but the auction is scheduled to kick off November 19, according to a press release today.

RegistryPro, a subsidiary of HostWay, received the the right to start selling previously-restricted one-, two- and three-character .pro domains from ICANN in May 2009.

This June, it allocated nine such domains, including top.pro and 411.pro, via an RFP process.

After it has finished auctioning off its selected short domains, the company plans to put the remainder back into the pool for first-come, first-served registrations.

Hostway wants non-existent domain patent

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2010, Domain Tech

Hostway, the large web hosting company, has applied for a US patent on a system of intercepting and redirecting requests for non-existent domains names.

The application describes “A system and method for controlling internet traffic controls internet traffic directed to a non-existing domain in a centralized manner.”

It appears to cover a service that could be offered to local ISPs, enabling them to show their users monetized search pages rather than domain-not-found error messages.

Under the system, ISPs would intercept NXDOMAIN responses to their users’ DNS lookups.

Instead of passing the error on to the browser, the ISP would consult a centralized controller for the IP address of a context-appropriate landing page to redirect the user to.

It’s not at all clear to me whether Hostway is using the technology or has plans to do so. The application was filed in October 2008.

ISPs using NXDOMAIN substitution to monetize error traffic is widespread but controversial.

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom strongly complained about the practice, which also has security implications, during a rant at the Nairobi meeting last month.

VeriSign’s Site Finder, and later Cameroon’s .cm, both controversially did similar things when they “wildcarded” non-existent domains at the TLD registry level.

Other interesting US patent applications published today include:

20100106650 – covering Go Daddy’s auction services.

20100106793 and 20100106794 – covering email forwarding under Go Daddy’s private registration services.

20100106731 – assigned to VeriSign, covering a method of offering alternative domain names for registration when a buyer’s first choice is unavailable.