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John Neff is the Editor of Autoblog, a site for the car enthusiasts amongst us. He spends his days obsessively covering the auto industry, and talked to us about the role trends play in his profession.
12 Questions with John Neff
1. How did you get involved with Autoblog and what motivates you to continue?
Not long after Autoblog launched back in 2004, I responded to a post calling for potential bloggers. I started with the site as a blogger and soon after became its editor. Then Weblogs, Inc., Autoblog’s parent company, was bought by AOL and I was made the site’s full-time editor-in-chief. My motivation to continue is constantly refreshed by the site’s evolution. It has grown in size to attract 4.5 million unique visitors per month and along the way we have greatly increased our staff of dedicated and talented bloggers and significantly increased the amount of original content we produce. My motivation keeps me going to see what’s next.
2. How significant are the topics of cool hunting and trend spotting to Autoblog?
Scouring the internet to find the cool trends is extremely important, as is improving the quality of our editorial and photography as well as introducing innovative features that readers might not expect from a blog. But to catch a trend early and ride its wave of popularity can attract a lot of attention, which is what every site on the Internet wants.
3. How do you define a trend?
There’s a tipping point when enough individuals elevate something to the status of a trend. No single person decides something is a trend, but rather enough people identify it as cool and a trend is born.
4. How do you define cool?
What’s cool is entirely subjective and different for every person. A Ford Mustang GT is cool to some people, and World of Warcraft is cool to others. There are some people who think both is cool. But whatever you think is cool helps shape your identity. Like so many novelty pins on a leather jacket, the things you think are cool show others who you are.
5. Do you need a culture of innovation to create something that is cool?
Yes, which I suppose is why this country is a pretty big player in the cool business. The United States has operated in a perpetual culture of innovation since its founding, regardless of whether that innovation has taken place in office buildings or garages.
6. What is the best way to create an infectious idea, product or service?
Ditch the focus groups and start throwing darts at the wall. You’ll never know if something is infectious until it’s out there in the real world, so try as many ideas as you can and wait for the one that hits a bulls-eye.
7. What is the key to innovation?
The environment. Not the tree-hugging kind, but the type of positive atmosphere that surrounds creative people. Cubicles and fluorescent lighting don’t breed innovation, but a culture of encouragement and support for new ideas will get things started.
8. What is the most important trend you see in your industry?
My trade is the auto industry, and while green cars like hybrids and diesels are getting more ink in the press, not as many people as you think are buying them. The real trend is the downsizing of car shoppers’ tastes. When the thought of $4/gallon gas was something to be laughed at, trucks and SUVs were the popular trend. Though gas prices are at reasonable levels right now, consumers are finally aware that they won’t stay that way and have adjusted their tastes downward to smaller vehicles.
9. What are your ambitions for Autoblog?
I’m not so crazy as to think I can direct Autoblog towards a future of my choosing, but our philosophy of keeping our heads down and legs pumping has served us well. Rather than watch what everyone else in our segment is doing, we stick to what got us here and keep improving our product day after day. A few big innovations are planned that we hope will serve our readers better and set us apart from the crowd, so stay tuned. Eventually, we’d like to see Autoblog considered as a premium brand for automotive news and reviews, which is already happening.
10. How do you reset yourself to be creative? (e.g. do you have any rituals, do you set aside time for creativity, etc.)
I have the good fortune of working from home, so I’ve created a space for working and being creative that’s suited to my personality. For me, though, the best way to reset is to walk away from a project, do something like go for a drive or play basketball and let my head think about the problem while my body is busy doing something else.
11. Professionally, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I wouldn’t mind doing the same thing I’m doing now in 10 years, because I love it that much and we’re still far from tapping Autoblog’s full potential. Maybe throw in a book deal or two and I’d be good.
12. What are your most important hobbies?
The most important one to me is photography, because I personally love it and it’s so important to the success of Autoblog. We don’t hire professional photographers to shoot the vehicles we review (too expensive), so developing that skill for myself, sharing my enthusiasm for it with our team and raising the quality of the site’s photography has been particularly rewarding.