This website is an initiative of J-Lab.

Who's Blogging

Karyn Lu

KARYN LU works in the Design Experience Group at, and is the User Experience Lead on, CNN's citizen news initiative. She is passionate about creating a great user experience across multiple disciplines and platforms.

Lila King

LILA KING is an online media producer living in Atlanta. She's pretty sure everyone's story is fascinating if you listen well enough. Echo is all ears.

Click for full bios.

Project Blog: Echo

This public art and civic journalism project will produce and collect stories tied to physical locations throughout Atlanta. Signs with Echo phone number and location ID will invite pedestrians and cyclists to access a story about that site via cell phone, podcast or the Web. When a space becomes inscribed with cultural or personal stories, it transforms into a place of significance, said project leaders Lila King and Karyn Lu, movers behind CNNs user-generated site Follow their progress here. Visit their website.

Beta Launch

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Echo Atlanta successfully launched as a beta site. They’re planning a launch party that will include walking tours of the neighborhoods where they collected audio stories. Their “to-do” list remains full. They continue to apply for more funds to add signage around town and produce more content for the site.

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 06/10 at 07:50 AM

Echo Atlanta Final Report

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prepared by Karyn Lu and Lila King

It’s hard to believe that more than a year has passed since we won the New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant. In that time, Echo Atlanta has made steady progress toward launching a beta launch, building a platform for mobile, digital place-based storytelling in our city, and learning to become a business.

Collecting Stories

Over the past year we’ve had the pleasure of talking with and collecting stories from a wide variety of residents in the Lake Claire and Candler Park neighborhoods, from long-time residents who have found creative ways to stave off land development in these areas, to business owners and self-appointed historians, to graduate students who can enthusiastically tell you about the story of the emu in the land trust. We’ve learned a lot along the way, about how co-housing communities operate, about Civil War era ghosts, and about the corner of Candler Park that was formerly a dairy farm.

To date we have a total of 15 stories. They are all up on our beta site, pinpointed by location:

Expanding our Team

As we noted in our midterm progress report, the steepest learning curve we have faced so far is on the business of Echo. In the first few months, we managed to draw up articles of incorporation, create an operating agreement, get a state tax ID number, and set up a bank account on our own. However, the task of becoming a real business and striking up partnerships with other local businesses so that we can better serve our community has been a challenging one.

Along that front, the best thing we did over the past year was to expand our core team. We added a third member to our day-to-day operations, Shannon Hubbell, who is serving as both our Project Manager and Business Manager. Not only is Shannon really passionate about entrepreneurship and well connected in the Atlanta startup scene (she co-founded two other Atlanta-based startups, Startup Chicks and Atlanta Helps), she is also a fantastic PM (also her day job) and has her MBA from Georgia Tech. In short, she is the perfect addition to our team to complement our existing editorial and creative skill sets.

The three of us on the core team have a standing weekly breakfast meeting to check in on Echo. Because of Shannon’s help, we have already gained more local exposure and started to become more involved within the Atlanta startup community through groups such as Startup Chicks and the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech. Shannon is currently helping us to formulate a business plan and to begin reaching out to potential partners in order to pursue both new funding opportunities and partnerships.

Potential Local Partners

We have created a spreadsheet of potential partnerships that we’d like to pursue in the Atlanta area, and plan to make this endeavor our top priority in the coming months. These potential partners include:

  • Atlanta Beltline project
  • Atlanta Planit
  • Atlanta Bicycle Campaign
  • Trees Atlanta
  • PEDS
  • People TV - Sidewalk Stories
  • Wonderroot
  • WABE
  • GPB
  • Home Depot Foundation
  • Coca Cola Foundation
  • BrandAtlanta
  • Atlanta City Arts Foundation
  • Dekalb Council for the Arts
  • Fulton County Council for the Arts
  • Georgia Council for the Arts
  • Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta
  • Arthur Blank Family Foundation

Because Echo serves a number of needs and can be conceived of as historical preservation, civic journalism, and public art, we hope that the response in the local community both in terms of partnerships and funding will be positive, as these connections will ensure that we have the means to not only keep Echo alive but to grow the project in the coming years.

Design & Development

Our developer, Adam Varga, and our designer, Ronnie Ting, have continued to work with us throughout the year to evolve both the technical infrastructure for Echo’s voice/web storytelling system and the visual aesthetic for the site. Their work can be seen by looking at Echo’s beta site ( and by dialing into the voicemail system: 888-ECHO-ATL.


We met with Joe Manus from Art Through Labor, a local design and construction shop, who is going to be creating and installing some free-standing signs for Echo Atlanta. We spent a fantastic afternoon with Joe in his workshop where he walked us through the technology and did some quick prototyping for us (photo: Later on, we moved to an even more advanced prototype (photo: This latter version, once refined with additional information, is the one that we plan to roll out in Lake Claire and Candler Park.

Echo on Social Media

We established an account on Flickr (, a popular photo/video sharing site, in order to openly share photos and videos from the Echo project. On this page you’ll find photos of us in the Art Through Labor workshop working on sign prototypes, out and about in Lake Claire and Candler Park collecting stories and meeting people, as well as photos of the team having working sessions or just enjoying each other’s company over coffee or dinner.

In the interest of openness and documentation, we also plan to establish a presence on other social media sites including Twitter and Facebook once we officially launch the project. Of course, we plan to continue blogging as well.

Next Steps: Launch Party

Now that we have a critical mass of stories collected and our beta site and voicemail system up and running, we are in the midst of planning a formal launch event some time in late October or November 2009. It will take place in a secret oasis called Mulberry Fields, formerly the site of a dairy farm and currently a community space complete with garden plots, goats, and chickens.

imageThe launch event will take place on a Sunday afternoon and begin with a series of self-guided walking tours throughout these neighborhoods using the Echo voicemail system—attendees will be able to choose from several themes including “Front porch stories” or “Yard art.” After people have had a chance to take a walk and learn more about their neighborhoods, a party will kick off in Mulberry Fields where we will serve coffee, tea and cupcakes, and where neighbors will have an opportunity to mingle and get to know one another better. We hope to include some press at this event as well.

Future Goals: Creating a Toolkit

We want Echo to expand beyond Atlanta. Our next big challenge, once we launch here and secure additional funding, will be to apply our experience and lessons learned toward setting up a portable toolkit so that passionate members of any community can stand up an Echo system in their own neighborhoods.

Lessons Learned

  • It is really difficult to devote time to work on a side project while working a demanding day job. Adding a formal Project Manager to our team helped us to manage this challenge more effectively. We’ve also learned that we must be disciplined in terms of setting up regular check-ins, assignments, and deadlines in order to force ourselves to keep moving.
  • The learning curve for the nuts and bolts of starting a new business was steeper than we’d originally thought it we be, and we spent more time in the first half of the year pulling together basic legal and tax documents than we had anticipated.
  • Working with like-minded friends makes for a wonderful creative environment, but good relationships aren’t necessarily enough to propel a project forward. The developer and designer we worked with both do incredible work, and we love working with them, but they’re also juggling demanding day jobs and weren’t always able to focus as intently on Echo as we would have liked.  If we were to start the project over today we would probably begin with a more rigorous schedule of deadlines and expectations, and perhaps would have hired different people to do the initial design and development work.


   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 10/16 at 09:06 AM

Tons of Updates from Echo

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

There are tons of updates from team Echo! June is going to be a busy month for us, as we are aiming to launch our pilot within the next four to six weeks in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on that. Here are some notes on what we’re working on:

We added a (much-needed) project manager/business manager to our team, Shannon Hubbell. Shannon is a dream come true - she not only keeps all of us on task every week, but she is super smart and full of brilliant ideas. Also, she is incredibly passionate about entrepreneurship (having helped to found two start-ups in the Atlanta area). Shannon is helping us explore whether Echo can become a viable business and, if so, what our business model should be so that we can generate enough money to sustain and grow the project.

We’re reaching out to local organizations and hope to establish partnerships with groups such as Trees Atlanta, PEDS and Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, among others.

We have completed quite a few rounds of story collection and talked to lots of amazing people along the way. (We had a fun afternoon where we simply wandered around the neighborhood and accosted people on their front porches with our recording device.) We have some really fantastic content that we’re currently editing.

We’ve been working with Joe from Art Through Labor ( to do some sign prototyping. Here’s a picture of the latest evolution:

We started a Flickr group! (See directions on our Flickr group page to join.) A Twitter account and Facebook page will be coming soon.

We’re getting ready to reach out to our pilot neighborhoods by attending the Candler Park and Lake Claire neighborhood association meetings in June and July and writing up announcements for their respective newsletters.

And, we’re party planning! We’re hoping to launch with a small early evening tea/cupcake party in each neighborhood, preceded by an afternoon of Echo walking tours. We want the walking tours and party afterwards to be events where neighbors can meet and get to know each other better.

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 06/02 at 09:59 AM

Sign of the signs

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Signs 3Karyn and I stopped by our friend Joe’s shop this week to talk through some options for Echo signs and got to watch a few of them materialize before our eyes. (Note Karyn’s awesome photos!)

Joe owns a local design-build shop that makes furniture and signs and full-scale installations for places all over town, so he’s got some pretty nifty equipment, including a machine that makes incredibly precise cuts in all kinds of materials. To give us an idea of what he can do, Joe cut a few variations on our logo out of some metal sheeting.

Signs 4One thing we learned today: for all our experience in building web pages, we don’t know a whole lot about the way designs work in physical space. Joe asked us lots of questions about how we expected people to spot and interact with the signs, which naturally included notions of readability and distance and dimensionality, none of which figures a whole lot in the 2D world of our beloved monitors.

Joe kindly offered to give the logo and signs some thought and come back with a few options for us to consider. For now, we’re thinking of going with signs in the shape of the “o” in our logo, so it looks kind of like web-map pins coming up out of the ground in real life. Cool, right?

Signs Signs 2
   • Posted by Lila King on 04/26 at 01:01 PM

Exciting Developments

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Echo beta launch is approaching fast! We’re working through final iterations of our logo and site design, and the back end is coming together. In the month of March we’re going to be doing some serious story collecting, both through a few more scheduled interviews with Lake Claire icons and through some community outreach so that we start off with a nice balance of produced stories and community-generated ones.

Once we finalize our logo design, we’re planning to work a friend of ours who owns a contracting and design shop to see our signs come to life.

Last week we took a fantastic trip to Athens, Georgia where we gave a talk about Echo to a graduate class in the College of Environmental Design at UGA called “Ideas of Community and Place” (sounds like a fascinating class, doesn’t it?). We had an incredibly inspiring discussion with Professor Lara Mathes and her students about storytelling, building & nurturing communities both online and in real life, new trends in data visualization, and the design of urban spaces.

Here’s the best part: the final project for the class will be to work with us to install Echo Athens!

Each of the students will produce a short piece about the design of a type of public space (e.g., a cul-de-sac or a plaza) and tag a spot in Athens with that story. It is our hope that the stories generated by the community will then either speak to or perhaps contradict the intent of the design. Most of us probably aren’t aware on a daily basis that the physical design of a space very much shapes the way we interact with that space and with one another in it. We think the Echo Athens series will surface this dimension of everyday lives in a really beautiful and thoughtful way, and we couldn’t be more excited.

In addition, part of our plan for Echo has always been to produce a “kit” of sorts that we can hand off to another community so that the people who love that place the most can stand up the system easily and make it their own. Echo Athens will be a first opportunity for us to test out this idea, and we expect to learn a lot from it.

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 03/11 at 08:31 AM

Happy new year!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Happy new year from the Echo team! We hope that everyone had a fantastic holiday. Both of us took some much-needed time off at the end of December, but we did manage to get a bunch of content to our developer and designer so that they can begin their work in earnest this month. We finished editing our first batch of stories (about a dozen from the Lake Claire neighborhood) and sent off the audio files and accompanying metadata. We also put together wireframes and content for the first release of our site. Adam (our developer) and Ronnie (our designer) are both now hard at work, and we hope that by the time we post our next blog entry, we will have some preliminary designs or even a prototype of the voicemail system to share with you.

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 01/08 at 01:35 PM

December update

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Over the last few weeks we’ve been working on the back-end infrastructure for Echo. In addition to the giant flow chart we’ve created for mapping out how users will navigate the system, we’ve developed a spreadsheet outlining all of the pertinent metadata for each of our stories. We also just finished developing wireframes and content for the first phase of the Echo site, which will prominently feature an interactive Google map zoomed into Lake Claire, our pilot neighborhood. We can’t wait to see how our designer Ronnie translates all this into a beautiful visual interface for Echo.

In the back of our minds we’re also wrestling with an interesting challenge, which came about when a friend who lives in Lake Claire told us that his wife remembers the runaway pony story differently (hear it from our 9/8/08 entry). How do we showcase a story when multiple people remember the event differently, and can tell it from various perspectives? If we can find an elegant design solution for this, we can help evolve multimedia conversations online to a whole new level. If you have any ideas or would like to chat with us, drop us a line!

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 12/10 at 10:25 AM

Big weekend

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Team Echo spent the weekend in New York City, where we met up with our designer and developer in a picturesque start-up-y setting: a giant, open, randomly furnitured office loft in Dumbo. (Thank you, News Groper, for lending a Saturday afternoon perch!)

We spent most of the day Saturday working out some tough questions from our developer Adam about the structure of the Echo database, and how the various pieces of data will flow between the web and phone systems. We also talked through the hierarchies of location data and organizational structures we need to give our stories. Like, what happens when themes begin to emerge among stories and across neighborhoods?  We’ll want to add in some new categories and connectors for, say, a civil war bike tour or a map of tales involving barbeque, on the fly without having to rework the database.

Basically we need to balance the competing needs of an organic, user-generated system with some bigger, flexible principles that will bind the pieces together in some meaningful way. Nothing bigger than the problems the great minds who built the Web in first place are still trying to solve, right? No wonder we wrestled so mightily through the afternoon.

We also got a peek at logo sketches from Ronnie, our designer, offered some direction on finishing them, and topped the evening off with a delicious dinner with the whole crew at a restaurant called, appropriately, Superfine. (Try the pork chop, it’s amazing.)

Sunday we spent mostly walking and talking through lower Manhattan, building lists of to-dos for the next two weeks (meet with our accountant, get wireframes to Ronnie and the first batch of stories and metadata to Adam) and feeling genuinely ecstatic that it’s really coming together.

   • Posted by Lila King on 10/22 at 09:55 AM

Back to business

Monday, September 22, 2008

We laid low for a couple of weeks while we worked like crazy at our day jobs and did some lovely traveling (Seattle and fabulous Brazil), but last week Echo was back in full force.

The first order of business is a massive flowchart for the voice xml system that will power the mobile phone element of Echo. It gave us a new respect for those automated customer service lines (press “1” to get some help already, “2” to hear these options again ...). Our idea is fairly simple - hear a story or leave one - but thinking through all the options, and then mapping them out in a way that wouldn’t be completely confusing to someone standing on a street corner with a cell phone is anything but. We feel good about where we landed, though, and made an important decision in the process. We’re going to organize Echo stories around two main principles: neighborhood and emotion. More on that coming soon.

Also, we met an incredible woman at a little gift shop in Candler Park, very near where we started the Echo pilot program. It turns out that she’s the local neighborhood historian, the woman who spends her days running a gift shop and her nights poring over old letters at the Hargrett Rare Book Library at the University of Georgia. She’s kindly promised to give us and our tape recorder a walking tour of the neighborhood. We’ll try to set that up this week, and hope to have our first batch of pilot-ready stories for our first neighborhood shortly after.

   • Posted by Lila King on 09/22 at 01:48 PM

Echo updates

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lila’s husband Brennan has found the perfect quote to capture the spirit of Echo, and we wanted to share it with everyone:

From Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go, pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place-the picture of it-stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.”

“Can other people see it?” asked Denver.

“Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes, yes. Someday you will be walking down the road and you hear something or see something going on. So clear. And you think it’s you thinking it up. A thought picture. But no. It’s when you bump into a rememory that belongs to somebody else. Where I was before I came here, that place is real. It’s never going away. Even if the whole farm-every tree and grass blade of it dies. The picture is still there and what’s more, if you go there-you who never was there-if you go there and stand in the place where it was, it will happen again; it will be there for you, waiting for you. So, Denver, you can’t never go there. Never. Because even though it’s all over-over and done with-it’s going to always be there waiting for you. That’s how come I had to get all my children out. No matter what.”

“If it’s still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies.”

Sethe looked right in Denver’s face. “Nothing ever does,” she said.


In other news, our night of interviewing in Lake Claire was absolutely amazing. We could have easily spent a year listening to stories from the wonderful people of that community. We’ve been busy transcribing and editing down hours of audio files. Listen to a sneak preview here - this story involving a rogue pony is one of our favorites from that evening. Thanks to everyone who spent some time chatting with us!

Finally, we also had the opportunity to chat with Mark Glaser from the MediaShift blog recently. Check out our interview here.

   • Posted by Karyn Lu on 09/08 at 11:38 AM