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.pro now open to all

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias today made the .pro gTLD available to anyone, regardless of their professional qualifications.

The previously restricted TLD was able to do so as a result of its six-week-old contract with ICANN, which loosened many of the conditions former registry RegistryPro originally agreed to when the TLD was delegated 13 years ago.

Under the original Registry Agreements, RegistryPro — since acquired by Afilias — had to verify the professional credentials of potential registrants.

Now that .pro has been brought under something that looks a lot like the 2012 new gTLD RA, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.

The registry said in a press release:

despite demand from registrants and registrars alike, .PRO names have historically been denied to professionals from a wide range of fields such as policemen, firefighters, journalists, programmers, artists, writers, and many others.

In my personal experience, it has been possible to register a .pro domain without providing credentials. I’ve been paying for one for a few years, though I’ve been unable to actually use it.

The gTLD was approved in the original, first round of new gTLD applications, back in 2000.

Part of the original deal was that it would be restricted to three classes of professions — lawyer, doctor, accountant — and only available to buy at the third level.

The third-level limitation was lifted many years ago, but .pro continued to be restricted to people who could show a credential.

However, even as recently as 2012 then-RegistryPro-CEO Karim Jiwani was telling DI that the secret to growth was more restrictions, not less.

He’s no longer with the company.

.pro’s registration numbers have have been suffering the last few years.

The registry peaked at roughly 160,000 names in July 2012, and has been on a downward track ever since. It started this July with about 122,000 registrations.

As part of its new deal with ICANN, Afilias no longer has price caps — previously set around .com prices — and has had to implement some of the provisions of the new gTLD Registry Agreement.

One such provision is the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, which continues to cause controversy in the industry.

Jiwani quits as president of RegistryPro

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2013, Domain Registries

Karim Jiwani, president of Afilias unit RegistryPro, has quit to explore new opportunities in the domain name business.

Jiwani, whom we profiled in depth recently, joined Afilias when it acquired RegistryPro, the .pro registry, a year ago, so the move is not entirely surprising.

Prior to RegistryPro, he headed up Afilias’ business in Europe.

“Mr. Jiwani plans to pursue other opportunities in the expanding domain industry,” Afilias said.

Afilias doubles .pro registrations in a year

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias says it has managed to grow .pro by 100% just one year after acquiring RegistryPro, despite an abuse crackdown and a tightening of registration policies.

RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani, speaking to DI earlier this month, said that .pro currently has roughly 160,000 domain names under management, compared to 120,000 at the time of the deal.

However, .pro lost about 40,000 domains — all Zip codes registered to former registry owner Hostway — six months ago. Excluding these names, domains leaped from 80,000 to 160,000.

Jiwani said that steep discounting and the on-boarding of a few big new registrars — notably Directi — are mostly responsible for the growth.

It’s all organic growth — regular registrations — he said, with none of the dubious type of big one-off deals that gTLD registries often rely on to show adoption.

The growth has come despite the fact that Afilias is cracking down on loopholes that have previously enabled registrars to sell .pro names to people without professional credentials.

At the time of the acquisition, registrars were accepting business licenses as credentials, but Jiwani said that this should no longer be possible.

“We’ve been trying to get to the registrars and let them now that a business license is not acceptable as a verification tool,” he said, “and we will continue to reach out to registrars and let them know.”

With some profession-specific new gTLDs (such as .doctor and .lawyer) likely to be approved by ICANN over the next year or two, Afilias wants it to be known that .pro has a broader customer base.

“What we did was try to get out to registrars and explain to them that you don’t just have to be a doctor or a lawyer to get a .pro domain,” Jiwani said.

“We explained to them that there are many, many professions in the world — from massage therapists to radiologists to tour guides,” he said. “It opened up the mindset of the registrars a little bit and they were promoting it to a wider array of professionals.”

Our full interview with Jiwani, in which he discusses the challenges of growing a restricted registry, fighting abuse, and how legacy gTLDs can compete with new gTLDs can be read on DI PRO:

Interview: RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani on the challenges of growing a restricted gTLD

Afilias acquires .pro operator RegistryPro

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2012, Domain Registries

Afilias has acquired .pro registry manager Registry Services Corporation, which does business as RegistryPro, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal will see .pro domain names migrate to Afilias’s back-end, bringing the number of TLDs the company supplies registry services for to 17, the largest of which is .info .org.

It’s not yet clear whether the deal includes Zip.pro, a “local search” service operated by RegistryPro’s former parent Hostway using tens of thousands of self-owned zip code .pro domains.

(UPDATE: Afilias has confirmed that Zip.pro is staying with Hostway. The former owner of .pro is essentially now its biggest customer.)

Hostway bought RegistryPro in early 2004 shortly before .pro went live. The deal was somewhat controversial at the time.

Since May last year the company has been headed by CEO Karim Jiwani, a former Afilias executive. Jiwani will stay in place as president of RegistryPro, Afilias said.

While RegistryPro has been offering new gTLD back-end registry services since last June, the acquisition “is specifically in support of the .pro domain,” the Afilias spokesperson said.

The gTLD will be migrated to Afilias’ back-end infrastructure, he confirmed.

“A migration plan is being put into place,” the spokesperson said. “Current .pro customers will see no issues; the platform change will be invisible to them (and as easy as possible for registrars.)”

ICANN was told about the deal, but did not need to approve it because the corporate structure of RegistryPro has not changed, he said.

The .pro gTLD has about 45 registrars, though only four of them have taken more than 10,000 registrations. EnCirca, which signed up on day one, leads the pack with 13,000 domains.

However, Network Solutions and RU-Center came on board in 2008 and have been responsible for contributing most of the gTLD’s organic growth in the last few years.

Despite these modest improvements, .pro is still broadly considered very much an also-ran gTLD.

It had roughly 117,000 registered .pro domains at the last official count, but 43,000 of those are US zip codes registered by a shell company belonging to Hostway back in 2008.

It appears that this Zip.pro service is a similar concept to the Employ Media-backed Universe.jobs services – an exercise in mass domain development backed by the (former) registry itself.

At some point quite recently, some of these zip code domains have started going live with what could be loosely be described as “content”.

If you visit 94110.pro, for example, you’ll see a bunch of stuff about the Mission district in San Francisco, an old haunt of mine.

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.

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