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    TheRecord - BlackBerry user turned obsession into a paying job

    BlackBerry user turned obsession into a paying job

    Kevin Michaluk Kevin Michaluk is the founder of CrackBerry.com.
    Chuck Howitt/Record staff

    SAN FRANCISCO — In the early days of the BlackBerry, a word was invented to describe the addictive nature of Research In Motion’s new smartphone.

    While no one really knows who coined the term “crackberry” it was quickly adopted by the many BlackBerry users and non-users who looked on them with skepticism as they stared hypnotically into their handsets.

    Kevin Michaluk can’t claim to have invented the word, but you won’t find a bigger crackberry addict than him.

    He’s the founder of the website, CrackBerry.com, which is devoted to all things about the BlackBerry. It features reviews and blogs about the many BlackBerry models, and forums where users can write in with tips, questions or problems with their smartphones.

    Michaluk doesn’t work for RIM. The Winnipeg resident started the site spontaneously with a few friends to share his enthusiasm for the device.

    Now it’s evolved into a web destination with eight million unique users and has become Michaluk’s full-time job and his raison d’être.

    “I haven’t found many product-focused websites that get as big as we are,” he said in an interview at RIM’s annual developers conference in San Francisco.

    As a crackberry addict, it’s a conference he can’t miss. In fact, he’s considered such an expert on the BlackBerry that RIM enlisted him to lead a workshop on how mobile apps developers can work with bloggers and the media to promote their creations.

    Michaluk, who studied business at the University of Manitoba, was working in the interactive division of Canwest Global in Winnipeg when he got his first BlackBerry.

    It was love at first key stroke. When he left Canwest to join a small website company, he talked all of his fellow employees into getting BlackBerrys as well.

    The inspiration to start CrackBerry.com came to him in early 2007 when he found himself sitting at a bar with friends. No one was talking. They were all staring into their BlackBerrys.

    While the site was started with a few friends and one investor, “I’ve always been the driving force,” says the energetic Michaluk. “I’ve always run CrackBerry.com as my baby.”

    The site was such a success that it was eventually bought by a Florida company called Smartphone Experts, an online retailer of smartphone accessories and publisher of forums on smartphone use.

    Smartphone Experts started out doing the same thing as CrackBerry.com, only with the Palm Tree mobile phone in 1999, Michaluk said.

    The acquisition hasn’t changed his role at CrackBerry, but the site now sells BlackBerry phones, apps and accessories as well as reviewing and analyzing phones, he said. Information on other devices can also be accessed through Smartphone Experts.

    CrackBerry.com. has just a few full-time employees, spread out in different locations.

    “We do a lot with not a lot of people,” he says. But there are many contributors through the forums, he notes.

    During the seminar, Michaluk acknowledged his close relationship with RIM.

    “We’re dependent on the success of the companies we cover. We try to put ourselves deep into their ecosystem.”

    If RIM does something he likes, he’s happy to tell the world. If not, “we give them constructive criticism.”

    Unlike the mass media, Crackberry.com is “niche media,” he says. “We cover one topic in depth.”

    “Milestones are newsworthy,” he told mobile apps developers in the audience. If you hit 20,000 downloads, let the traditional media know, he said.

    And don’t rely on CrackBerry to discover your mobile app once it’s available, he said. “Give us a heads-up.”

    If users start complaining about your app in online forums, don’t sit back and fume. Get in there and respond to the complaints, he advised.

    The best mobile apps bring something new to the BlackBerry platform or improve its functionality and user experience, Michaluk said.

    The worst are copycat apps, apps in a saturated category or “sneaky apps” that don’t act as advertised, he said.

    For developers who think the pipeline is slowing down, 50 per cent of all downloads from BlackBerry App World are for BlackBerrys on the two latest operating systems, even though they account for only one quarter of BlackBerry subscribers, he said.

    As for RIM itself, Michaluk believes it is headed in the right direction from a technology standpoint with its new BBX platform for smartphones, unveiled at the conference.

    “BBX is awesome. Everybody can see the power that it has,” he said in the interview.

    On the public relations front, he acknowledged that RIM’s image is taking a beating from the tech-media, based mostly in the U.S.

    “But you’ve got to keep it in perspective,” he said. When CrackBerry.com started, RIM shipped three million devices per quarter. In its last quarter, it shipped 11 million, he said.

    And last week’s service outage? “I would have panicked if RIM went down and nobody cared.”

    chowitt@therecord.com
    Chrisy likes this.
    10-23-11 05:17 PM
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    10-23-11 05:20 PM
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