Jim Louderback

October 31, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 5: What’s the Frequency Kenneth

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jim @ 11:53 am

dan ratherNow that Revision3 is part of Discovery (and renamed Discovery Digital Networks), I’m once again exposed to traditional television production cycles. Shows here are planned, purchased and produced in seasons. These are typically finite frequencies – 6, 13 or occasionally 26 episodes, with very clear start and end air dates.

Want to fail on YouTube? Do the same thing. Thinking of your content in seasons – or even worse, delivering content at random intervals – is one of the most common ways to fail.

The most successful creators on YouTube know this intimately. Pick any top 50 channel at random, and you’ll probably find a set schedule of release that’s slavishly adhered to – whether weekly, daily, and even at set times during the day. Many top creators are even building new tightly-related properties for their channels that will increase weekly frequency while continuing to follow to a rigid schedule. The incredibly talented Dane Boedigheimer just launched the first of a family of weekly scheduled series to enhance his “Annoying Orange” franchise, while Harley Morenstein – known for his weekly Epic Meal Time – just launched another regularly scheduled gaming channel.

It’s a hamster wheel. Creating successful franchises on YouTube means that once you start you literally can never stop – or face audience erosion. Here at Discovery Digital Networks we call it feeding the content monster. The audience is always hungry – and has very little loyalty to boot.

I learned this early on in my Revision3 days when we brought a show over to Revision3 called “Epic Fu”. Created by the incredibly talented Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf (and originally called “Jet Set Show”), Epic Fu was one of the early YouTube successes. The creators decided to move their show from Next New Networks over to Revision3, but ended up taking a few months off during the transition. Alas, even though they were slavishly dedicated to regular release, that gap caused a disastrous fall-off in views. With all the other new shiny on the web beckoning, the audience moved on, and we never really figured out how to bring them back.

“But Jim”, I can hear you complain, “what about shows like ‘Video Game High School’”? The popular series just came back with season 2 – about ten months after season 1 ended – and it’s still huge.

True, VGS is an anomaly – and a great show to boot. But even here there’s evidence that regularly scheduled content between seasons contributed to season 2’s success. During that 10 month hiatus, Freddie W and Brandon Jla released 22 new pieces of content on their channel, mostly video game themed. Even so, there was still a drop off between average YouTube views of season 2 vs. season 1– although that could easily be explained by the additional distribution the latest episodes received on their off-YouTube site and other places.

I’ve always thought of web-original video as more akin to talk radio and news than traditional television, and my experience bears that out. Regularly scheduled releases – at least weekly – and no gaps are required if you want to be successful. As a creator, you really want to develop habits, and regular temporal triggers make those habits easier to adopt. So take a tip from Daily Grace, Phil DeFranco and just about every other successful YouTube star: Irregularity is a path to irrelevance.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 4: Fake It Until You Make It

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , — Jim @ 11:49 am

fake it until you make itAristotle advised readers that if they acted virtuous, they might then become virtuous. That adage has been adopted into by the “Fake It ‘till You Make It” crowd, who practice self-deception as a life strategy.

And for many, it actually works. Nevertheless, it is one of the dumbest things you can do on YouTube, and indeed on the internet in general.

I call it “stream fraud”, and I feel like I’ve been railing against if forever, but it’s only been three years. Back in 2010 I was mostly concerned with shady video ad networks and other low-life players, but since then it’s moved on to YouTube in force.

There are more than a handful of seemingly legitimate companies that will take your money and give you “views”. A quick search on Google for “buy youtube views” turns up a variety of alternatives – from Virool to Channel Factory and Vagex – most of them shady. The recent REELSeo forum had at least two companies promising to deliver 10,000 video views in just a few days on any video. The YouTube sections on many black-hat SEO forum sites have thousands of pages where these illegitimate techniques are discussed. Unfortunately these tools are used by more brands than you might think.

You can typically spot these fake view videos a mile away. How? Look for videos with hundreds of thousands – or millions of views – and just a smattering of comments. Or hundreds of likes and no dislikes. The best YouTube videos engage at least a few people, and if you’re not attracting even a few nattering nabobs of negativity, you’re just not doing it right.

Buying views isn’t just a waste of money – it’s outright fraud if in-page or in-stream ads are served. But if that’s not enough to sway you, YouTube’s not standing still either. At the end of last year they began to target channels and videos that were clearly juicing views, including wiping out more than a billion fake views from Universal Music alone.

But that didn’t solve the problem. I’ve continued to see blatantly faked view counts across YouTube this year – I even called out the problem during my Vidcon keynote in August.

clip_image001

The enclosed screen shot is just one of many examples I’ve found. Published on April 12th, 2013, this video has over a quarter million views, but just 5 comments. Even worse, it has 408 likes, but only one dislike. And that one’s not even legit – I actually put it in myself just to see what would happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another clue that this video’s views were faked. I grabbed this stats screen from YouTube just a few days ago – 23 more views, but nary a smidge of engagement:

clip_image002Notice that virtually all 250,413 views happened on just one day. That’s just not normal. And no shares nor subscriptions were driven from those views either. If it were a duck I’d call it decidedly odd.

But YouTube has recently started stepping up its enforcement. In mid-September they posted a video warning creators away from buying fake views, The relevant quote:

“YouTube believes that a view should be something that happens when someone decides to watch a video. If someone is tricked or forced into watching a video, that is not OK…. Anything that artificially increases views either through automated means or playing videos for people who didn’t choose to watch them is against our terms.”

So it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. And in the last few days another round of crackdowns has begun in earnest as the company penalizes and takes down suspect videos.

So if you want to fail on YouTube, go buy a bunch of shady views. And when you get caught, good luck convincing your boss, your clients or your partners that it just wasn’t your fault. Congratulations! You just failed miserably at YouTube.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 3: Riding the Meat Puppets!

Filed under: Commentary,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 11:43 am

Meat_PuppetsAssociation with a celebrity is a tried and true way to move the needle. Just put Tom Cruise in a movie, Tom Brady in a commercial or Tom Hanks as a guest host and watch viewers and sales go through the roof.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way on YouTube. We’ve seen a parade of celebrities try to dominate this new medium by riding on their celebrity coattails, and have fallen flat. Everyone from Madonna to Miley Cyrus and Shaquille O’Neil has seen dismal results.

I’ve talked to a number of High Q-Score individuals, and attempted to guide them to success on YouTube – or mostly to scare them away. Because on YouTube it’s not about how famous you are – it’s about how authentic and accessible you will be.

You just can’t expect to toss up a few videos every now and then and never return. That celebrity halo that sells so much soap is just noise on YouTube. You have to actually work for your views – and that’s not what most celebrities want to hear.

That’s because at its core YouTube is a community. You can post videos and you might even get a handful of breakout hits. But without really engaging the community you’ll fall flat over the long term. And most celebrities just don’t want to put in the hard work to grow those group. It’s completely understandable, by the way. YouTube is still an emerging medium, and anyone with a notable Q-Score will make far more money by plying their trade on TV, radio or in theaters rather than on the web.

There is a massive exception though: music videos. In addition to being an incredibly personal medium, YouTube is also the world’s jukebox. A catchy song and some arresting visuals will keep ‘em coming back again and again. And if you can get naked on a wrecking ball in the process, even better!

But aside from music videos, a celebrity-themed channel where the celeb fails to show up at least a few times a week is a recipe for disaster.

October 29, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 2: Ignore Your Audience

Filed under: YouTube Tips — Tags: — Jim @ 12:22 pm

ignoreLast time we talked about the first dumb way to die on YouTube, which is to put a disparate variety of shows into a single YouTube channel. My friend Mark Gardner pointed out, however, that both Geek and Sundry and Nerdist seem to do this to good effect.

It’s a good point, and yes they do seem to be doing quite well. But it’s important to note that much of the success is attributable to the appearance of some of the big stars behind the channels – Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick respectively. When those two show up – and they do quite often – those episodes typically do significantly better than the others. In addition, all the disparate properties are thematically similar, and feel more like segments of a single variety-type show rather than separate shows with individual missions.

But another reason why both of these channels seem to be successful while so many similar ones fail is that their creators are very good at not falling into the trap of DWTFOY #2. Unlike so many traditional media ventures on YouTube, they listen and respond to their audience.

Back in the late nineties I helped launch a cable TV network called ZDTV – which subsequently became TechTV. I even hosted a show for a few years, Fresh Gear, a weekly roundup of the latest computers, gadgets and tech gear.

We’d rush around all week trying to put the show together, and when it was finally done and shipped off to Master Control that’s the last we thought about it – as we had to start sprinting to our next weekly deadline.

We rarely thought about the audience at all, and outside of a few emails and meetups at Comdex and CES, we had very little contact with the viewers. Similarly when I was Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine – along with other tech publications – our community was called “Letters to the Editor”. We spent a few hours a month interacting with the community, and every other hour devising content to shove down our readers’ throats.

That doesn’t work today. Successful creators on YouTube typically spend 30-50% of their time interacting with their viewers. Much of that comes from being active in the comments that flow on YouTube after your videos have posted. But it’s more than just that. G+, Twitter, Facebook and email are just some of the ways today’s successful YouTube creators build – and then bind – big audiences.

It’s diametrically opposed to how much of traditional media works – particularly television. In the TV world we build walls between our stars and our audience. Ever see The Today Show taping outside at Rockefeller Center? It’s like being at the zoo, with Matt Lauer and crew safely walled off from their fans. Everything from agents and teleprompters to having your personal assistant hand-craft your tweets goes against the direct, authentic and person to person relationships that the true stars of YouTube are so good at building.

This really hit home for me at Vidcon this year, as I listened to Shay Carl, Phil DeFranco, iJustine and John Green talk about their relationship to their audience. Each of these megastars passionately explained how they consider it a privilege, and not a burden, to interact directly with as many of their fans as possible, whether in person, on message boards or in comment streams. Phil poignantly brought the importance of this connection home as he related how the audience has actually changed his mind on key issues over the years – and that would never have happened if he’d had filters protecting him from his fans.

The message was clear. When you listen to your audience you have to be prepared to be changed by them, and collaborate with them. Conversely, if you don’t, you will fail.

And that gets me back to the first Dumb Way to Fail. I’ve been in the comment stream of more than one of those multi-show channels, and seen posts talking about how they really wished one of the shows was in its own channel. Why? Because the posters were tired of being fed things in their stream that they just didn’t want. And flooding the stream with irrelevant material, and then not listening to the audience when they tell you to stop gives you a double dose of fail.

September 22, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube (with apologies to “Dumb Ways to Die”) Part 1

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV — Tags: , , , — Jim @ 9:38 am
Dumb Ways to Die

Dumb Ways to Die

As YouTube has become more of an institution, more and more brands and newcomers are attempting to stake out a place on the biggest video platform on the internet. And as they do, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Also, as the site changes and matures, things that worked five years ago are no longer the smartest ways to build audiences and get views. This multi-part series will explore a variety of ways to deep-six your YouTube investment.

PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET: When Revision3 first got serious about YouTube back in 2008, we created a Revision3 channel and dumped all of our shows into it. That was less than successful. After carefully watching (read copying) those more successful than us, we started creating separate channels for each of our shows. Only then did we start to see traction for Diggnation, Film Riot, Scam School and our other popular shows.

But for some reason YouTube decided that it was smarter to follow the single channel model when it started doling out its $200 million dollars to launch new channels. Almost all of the channels (including our own TechFeed) shoved 7 or more separate shows into a single channel. Smarter YouTube experts – including Phil DeFranco with SourceFed and the Green Brothers with SciShow – resisted the advice. Unsurprisingly their single-show channels were among the few breakout successes, while most of the multi-show channels have faded into irrelevance.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, though, I still see media companies and other brands new to YouTube trying to load a slate of disparate shows into one channel. It still doesn’t work – and is clearly a recipe for failure.

Why? Because the way users consume YouTube content is very different from traditional TV. The “subscription” reigns supreme on YouTube, as the path to success is by amassing the biggest pile of subscribers you can. That’s because nearly half of all views are consumed via the feed of new programming that sits on the left side of the screen – and your subscribers are the ones that will push early sharing, comments and social buzz that will drive your views even higher among non-subscribers.

But if you have multiple shows in one channel, they have to *all* appeal to your subscribers for it to work. A variety of different shows, with different audience profiles, just won’t work. That’s because you’ll end up flooding your subscribers’ feed with shows they just aren’t interested in, and they’ll end up either ignoring your feed-entries or unsubscribing.

There are ways it can work – but it’s by creating variants of the same show rather than a variety of different shows. Check out two of our bigger channels – Rev3Games and SourceFed. Both use the same stable of 3-4 hosts and create variations on an existing show theme, rather than creating separate and distinct shows. So Rev3Games has video game “Reviews”, “Previews” and “Casual Fridays” – but all with the same mission of providing intelligent, personality-driven coverage of video gaming. Similarly SourceFed ties their daily news/lifestyle coverage with segments on “Today in History” and conversational round-tables like “Truth or Dare” and “Comment Commentary”.

Contrast that to the relative wasteland of “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls”, Rodale’s “3V” or “the Intelligent Channel” – all destinations that tried to put a disparate lineup of shows into one channel and haven’t gained a lot of traction.
Next time we’ll dive into how these sorts of problems could be identified, and possibly discovered, before it was too late.

This column (and the entire series) also showed up on Video Ink here.

August 19, 2013

FUTURE OF TV – I FIGURED IT OUT! (take that Apple)

Filed under: Commentary,Technology Reviews — Jim @ 3:52 pm

I’ve finally figure out what we need to make video work around the house. It’s not TV Everywhere, cord cutting or a la carte, although it could incorporate all of those. Nope, it’s Sonos for video. Pure and simple.

If you’re not familiar with Sonos, it’s the absolute best way to get music around your house. The company’s been around for about ten years, and what they do is simple, although oh-so hard. They take all of your digital music sources, and make it simple to browse, select, and then play through every audio rendering device in your house, either separately or together.

Note I said “audio rendering device”, and not stereo or speakers. And note I said “digital music sources” and not iTunes, Rhapsody or something else. That distinction is important.

But first, the magic behind Sonos is a clever Wifi hack that turns all of their devices into a mesh network, rather than using a hub-and-spoke configuration that your home base stations employ. Instead, each Sonos component is both hub and node, and communicates with all other Sonos devices in a mesh. That simple change (albeit hard to implement) is what lets Sonos do what no other wireless multi-room audio system can accomplish: syncing up a song to the beat in every room in your house.

They call it party mode, but what it means is that every note of Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” happens simultaneously in every room in your house – even if the node in your garage can’t directly communicate to the node on the patio.

In addition, Sonos has a variety of products that work with all the audio equipment you own. Have a killer stereo? The Sonos Connect feeds music to that device. Have a great pair of speakers? The Connect Amp brings an amplifier to the game. Recently they’ve developed all-in-one solutions, combining base-stations and amps with great sounding speakers, and released a TV sound bar and subwoofer to boot.
And when it comes to input, Sonos works with a variety of music sources, from your iTunes library or other shareable MP3 libraries on your PC or Mac, to all-you-can-eat services like Rhapsody and Spotify to SiriusXM, Pandora, LastFM and an almost endless list of web radio stations.

Plus over its life, Sonos has been happy to cannibalize its paid products with free alternatives when devices and forces shifted. For the first 7 years or so they sold an amazing family of controllers that made it simple to access all your music sources in one place, find what you wanted to listen to, combine and break apart groups of base stations, and just get on with adding tunes to your life. But as smartphones and tablets became ubiquitous, they killed off what had to have been a profitable line, and delivered free apps for PCs, phones and tablets that were better than the hardware they replaced.
In short, Sonos reimagined what a world-class multi-room audio system would be like in the age of IP-delivered music, and have always been a step ahead of everyone else.

And that’s exactly what we need for video. Here’s what TV looks like in a Sonos-imagined world. Homes have a variety of video inputs, and a variety of video rendering devices. Every glowing rectangle in your home, from the smallest smart phone to the biggest TV is a video rendering device. And every video source, from YouTube, Hulu Amazon and Netflix to that multi-channel cable or satellite bundle – along with all those home and ripped videos on your PC or Mac, is simply just an input. And that phone or tablet? That’s what you’ll use to select what to watch and feed to one, some or all of those glowing rectangles.

Here’s how it would work. A base station sits in front of each TV in the house. Each base station knows how to connect to all your internet-connected video sources, along with your local digitized video, and your multi-channel set top box or DVR. The set top box, though, will need to be physically connected to at least one of the base stations with some sort of IR-blaster or other remote control technology.

Each hub would include both the mesh-based high-speed network to communicate and synchronize with each other around the house, and a local, Wi-Fi based link to stream to phones and tablets in that room.

And for control, tablets and phones would make it easy to find all the available video in one interface, easy to peruse and manipulate.

Sounds great, right? All available video in once place, streamable to every TV in the house in a way that lets every device play its own stream, or some or all of them grouped together.

Of course there are implementation problems. First, the antique set-top box is a weak link. Companies as diverse as Logitech with their Harmony remote, and Sling have tried to make this all work, with some success – but it’s a pain. It’s probably best if we wait until a robust set of virtual MSOs (like the forthcoming Intel service) turn all of our video into IP-delivered streams.

And speaking of Sling, you’d probably need to acquire them to make all this happen, they are already 50% of the way there.

The wireless part is also problematic. Compared to 1080p video, audio streams are tiny. Keeping fat video streams in sync across multiple devices requires much more than standard wireless networking. And streaming wirelessly out to our phones and tablets adds another complexity to the synchronization.

But the benefits are clear. And with this type of system if new services come online, they can quickly be added in – as just another video source.

If someone builds this, and it really works, sign me up. And with a simple out-of-home streaming option, I’d be able to roll my own TV Everywhere – because in the end, that’s what I think viewers really want.

November 26, 2012

Amazing Italy In the Off-Season

Filed under: Food and Wine,travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Jim @ 7:46 pm

Europe, Jerusalem, 2012, italy, monaco 097

Want to see the world but miss the crowds? Consider off-season travel. I’ve always been a big fan, but after a Thanksgiving-week trip to Tuscany, I’m even more sold on the concept. Here’s why:

First, it costs a lot less. My family and I stayed in some of the best hotels, for a fraction of their in-season rates. Once the calendar turns November, you can typically save 30%, 50% or even more. For example, we stayed in the "family room" at the elegant Montebello Splendid hotel in Florence. This two-level room with 3 beds has a rack rate of nearly 900 euros a night. We paid less than 300.

Similarly in lovely Lucca we stayed at the super-friendly and comfortable Palazzo Alexander and it was 30-40% less than what it would have cost in the summer – or even just a few weeks earlier.

But for me the biggest reason to travel in the offseason is to avoid crowds. I was repeatedly admonished to reserve tickets for popular attractions in advance, or end up waiting hours in line. Florence’s amazing Uffizi Gallery, for example, was supposed to be nearly impossible to get into without a reservation, and forget a sashay up to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa without advance planning.

venus half shellIn late November, everything changes. One morning I wandered up to the Uffizi around 10, and was inside looking at "Venus on the Half-Shell" in less than five minutes. I walked right up to the Tower of Pisa mid-afternoon, and was climbing the steps a few minutes later. We stopped by the always overcrowded San Gimigiano and parked right next to the city walls – and it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. We even hiked to the top of the Duomo in Florence without waiting more than a minute. From April to October, this kind of access would be unthinkable.

Similarly, restaurants are equally accessible. Although it still might be difficult to get to the top spots, I had no problem making reservations an hour before showing up, and we ended up eating at the top spots in Florence and Lucca. Even better, most of our fellow diners were locals, not tourists, which made for a more authentic experience – even though we stuck out like hillbilly rubes visiting Oz for the first time.

lucca, italy, san gimigiano, 2012, november 148Finally, the fall is harvest and festival time in Italy. Last year I was lucky enough to visit Alba during the Truffle festival, which unfortunately created a life-long addiction to the rare white truffle – nearly as expensive by the ounce as cocaine. This year I uncovered the Lucca slow food fair, a mid-November to December celebration of the wine, food and olive oil from the less well-known, but tasty producers around Tuscany’s lesser-known north-west corner.

Sure, the weather can be dicey – although I was in a T-shirt for quite a few afternoons during my late November visit. Rain is possible, but the glistening streets of Florence and Lucca have a rare and special beauty. And snow is possible – my first visit to Rome and Tuscany 20 years ago was during a rare but ethereal snowstorm that cast everything in soft earthen and ivory hues.

And since much of what you want to see in Florence is indoors anyway – and you don’t have to plan your museum visits in advance – you can tour outdoors on the nice days, and inside when it storms.

Maybe you like stifling heat and crowds. Maybe you enjoy being surrounded by tourists. But if you’re looking for an authentic and laid-back experience in Tuscany, try offseason. It’s a far better way to really experience the art work, sights and cuisine. And if you’re lucky, it’ll snow!

Living the Good Live in Lucca Italy

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 7:19 pm

If you are headed to Tuscany, make a point of stopping by Lucca for a few nights.  It’s pretty, inviting, friendly and full of delicious food!  Here’s where to stay and where to eat:

Europe, Jerusalem, 2012, italy, monaco 084WHERE TO STAY – PALAZZO ALEXANDER

OK, let’s get the bad out of the way first. I traveled here in November 2012 with my wife and 13 year old son. We reserved a Jr Suite with 4 beds. Apparently there are two junior suites. one has a terrace overlooking the city. The other has naked angels on the ceiling.

Alas, we did not get the terrace. When the proprietor Mario showed us the room, it was somewhat shocking. The entire room was done up in a crazy-quilt combination, with naked angels painted on the roof, overplush and (to our view) tasteless matching couch, chair and bedspread. Instead of a terrace, there was a great whirlpool bath with a window overlooking the town.

My wife and I had a good laugh. My son was terribly freaked out. We were planning to stay five days, but the angels were going to force us into the street far before that.

But here’s where the great staff rode to the rescue. The other Jr Suite was booked, but they readily agreed to move us downstairs to a pair of connecting rooms (luckily it *was* November, and the hotel was not nearly full).

The two rooms were perfect. No wild and crazy paintings. No overdone plush. Just comfortable, clean and inviting . And as it turned out just about everything else about the place was amazing too.

The staff (Mario, his son Gabriel and everyone else) could not have been more helpful. Fully conversant in English, they made dinner reservations, had great suggestions and even went out of their way to help us with our computer connectivity challenges.

The rooms were super comfortable, the common areas a lot of fun to hang out in, and the included breakfast was more than enough to get us going each day.

Oh, about the networking. They have pretty decent connectivity downstairs, but by the time you get to the top floors, it gets a bit spotty. You can do email and read web pages, but don’t expect to stream any video. According to the tech expert Gabriel, the building is built out of thick stone, and stone attenuates wireless signals like no-one’s business.

It’ll get better. While we were there the local ISP was installing fiber throughout the walled city – which led to some internet constipation, but should lead to better performance for you when you arrive.

This is one of those places you’ll want to come back to again and again. And you should. Lucca is an amazingly friendly and comfortable town, the food is tremendous, and the setting divine.

WHERE TO EAT IN LUCCA

Oh, and let me give you some dining ideas as well. My favorite meal was at All’Olivo, a multi-course extravagance with local flavors, friendly service and a lovely ambiance. Buca di Sant’Antonio was a close second, although I’d take a pass on the local salt cod if I were you.

I was less impressed with Ristorante Giglio – both my son and I ended up with extreme stomach aches that night and the next day. And the food was just not that good.

But with so many great restaurants you can’t go wrong. Especially in the fall when chestnuts and truffles are in season!

November 21, 2012

A Lifting Experience in Monaco

Filed under: Commentary — Jim @ 2:38 am

acenseur publicAlthough I’ve been to Monaco five times now, I’ve never been a big fan of the tiny principality hard up against the mountains and surrounded by the French Riviera. But on this, my latest trip, my opinions changed.

My overweening impression of the country is a unhealthy mashup of Disneyland, Vegas and Rodeo Drive, hard up against the Mediterranean. Pretentious, overpriced and just too darn immaculate, I was sure that the streets were polished by toothbrushes overnight.

But I’ve come to realize that my impressions were unfairly influenced by my accommodations. My first visit, ten years ago, was to attend Acer’s Worldwide press conference. I stayed at the Fairmont Hotel. Situated just below the famous casino, it had splendid views and the soul of a rich whore.

My next three trips were to attend the Monaco Media Forum, a reliable mix of old friends, European media and ad execs I really enjoyed meeting, and a smattering of locals. The event is held in the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, which resembles nothing so much as a Marriott on the Med. Tucked far away from the action, and up against the eastern French border, it’s as out of the way as you can get in a country that measures just 3 miles across. If the Fairmont is a tawdry Russian Whore, the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel is a faded dowager. Both lacked soul, or indeed any sense of place at all.

So for this year’s trip to the Monaco Media Forum I opted for something more authentic. Instead of the overpriced hotels on the water I opted to stay in Beausoleil France – in a hotel just a few feet uphill from Monaco. In fact, the Odalys Haute Principaute was an "Apparthotel", full on apartments that were available from a night to a week or more.

Despite being a 15 minute walk from the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, it was a world away. Yes, I was still surrounded by too many bejeweled and sandblasted ex-beauties, and too many overly-precious small dogs. But I also finally felt part of the real fabric of Monaco life. I shopped in the local grocery store, drank coffee with the workmen and strolled down real streets that weren’t over-populated with brands you’d be just as likely to see on Rodeo Drive.

And finally, after five trips, I felt like I’d figured out how to navigate this nearly vertical tiny country.

Monaco can be devilishly confusing. I still remember my first visit, alighting from the train station and being completely and utterly lost. The station, like the rest of the city is carved out of a steep hillside, with the tracks in the center. Head up one way, and you can take an elevator to the one of the highest streets. Head out the door off of the tracks and you’ll be walking down a nearly endless staircase to the sea.

But off on the far end of the tracks is a set of elevators and escalators that take you down to the sea as well. Make a false move, however, and you end up whisked back up to the top, this time near the Exotic gardens.

Too many choices, not nearly enough context. But after a few visits I figured out the train station. And on this visit, the entire genius of the elevator system suddenly came into focus.

Monaco is much like Boston, just vertical not horizontal. When I lived in Boston I realized that there are three ways to get somewhere. The obvious one – which is typically the slowest, the circuitous one, which often yields quicker travel times, and the hidden one which takes years to discover but reliably gets you there in less time.

And that’s where the elevators come in. In Monaco, you can always wind your way around the city, through hairpin turns and switchbacks to get up, down and around. Or you can hit the Stairmaster, climbing up endless flights to ascend from the beach to the casino, restaurants and the sights.

But the elevator system makes the place much more manageable. It turns out there are an array of elevators that makes navigating the city a breeze. Don’t worry, it’s still a work-out. But since you’ll be climbing and descending countless steps anyway, the elevators really help.

It’s a bit disconcerting at first. You typically head into what looks like an office building, and then along a dispiriting hallway of linoleum and florescent lights. The elevators themselves are simple stainless steel, but they perform miracles. Suddenly, after 30 seconds or so, you pop out and you’ve gained hundreds of feet of elevation. Effortlessly.

I passed this wisdom on to a couple of friends also at the media forum and they were flabbergasted. "Elevators? Really?" But once you know how to find them, it’s simple to take advantage of these legsavers.

And once I mastered the elevators, I could get from spot to spot simply and easily. And because I wasn’t staying in a soulless corporate hotel, I felt like a real denizen of Monaco, not just a fleeting visitor.

And I came to like the little place. Sure it was still overrun with too many cigars, too many Russian hookers and too much pretension. But I found I could ignore all that, and actually enjoy this pretty country on the Mediterranean.

So if you do decide to go to Monaco, don’t miss the centers of debauchery at the Casino, the Buddha bar and the Hotel Du Paris. But stay at the Aparthotel and get out of the touristy places. Definitely bring walking shoes, and pick up a copy of the local map. Look for the many "Ascenseur Publics" – you’ll still climb a lot of stairs. But not as many, and you’ll end up getting to places you’d never visit. Oh, and good luck with the train station. You’ll probably need a few trips to get it right.

November 13, 2012

Jerusalem: Land of the Holy Pussies

Filed under: travel — Tags: , , — Jim @ 10:23 am

cats in jerusalemJerusalem is claimed by Christians, Jews and Muslims. But it’s owned by the cats.

Everywhere you turn, there’s another feral cat or six underfoot. It’s as if the entire town were controlled by some deranged cat lady god, and her furry progeny have taken "go forth and be fruitful" to its absurd extreme.

Cats on the balcony. Cats supping from cups left on windowsills by residents. Cats on a cold night warming themselves on the hot air vents from the marketplace below. Cats licking tins of tuna while tourists queue up to see the Temple Mount. Cats in the street, cats in the alley, cats on the ramparts, cats in the trash cans, cats, cats, cats.

I came up with a killer coffee-table book idea while roaming the back alleys – if only I had more time to actually produce it. I’d call it "Jerusalem: Land of the Holy Pussies". I’ll bet that would sell like hotcakes.

Maybe the Queen of Sheba still rules here after all.

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