A New York City Dive Bar in Online Community Form

What if the intro song to Cheers wasn’t about a bar, but instead about an online community where everyone knows your name? That’s what Stacy Horn created when she launched Echo, an online community that sought to connect New Yorkers.

But Echo wasn’t Stacy’s first go at creating a community. While studying at NYU’s ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program), she was working in the telecommunications department at Mobil and had an idea to connect employees and improve processes by way of an internal community. The community failed but throughout this conversation, Stacy’s learnings from this first experience come up over and over again: the importance of actively seeking out a diversity of voices and experiences to be represented in your community, having a clear intention and set of community guidelines, and creating a space for the best in people.

Today, Echo is nearly 30 years old. Its archives are on record with the New York Historical Society and the historians that look back on its conversations will be in for treat. In fact, it’ll be like they stumbled into a neighborhood bar full of people that have been chatting with each other for years.

Stacy also shares:

  • Why she failed when it came to starting an internal community for Mobil’s employees
  • The costs and infrastructure behind Echo, including an NYC street excavation
  • How she made Echo an inclusive space for women
  • Echo as an archive to pivotal moments in NYC’s history, including 9/11

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Big Quotes

On building an internal community for Mobil employees in the 80s: “The reason my [internal community] failed was that a number of [employees] across the country had just decided they were going torpedo it and just not participate. They were going to make sure it didn’t work. The reason they did that was not because they were bad, evil people trying to destroy my corporate dreams. What I saw as a way of finding problems and fixing them, they saw as exposing their mistakes.” –@stacyhorn

On starting a community based on your passions: “People will sometimes ask me if they should start a community … tied to their passion. … My answer is usually that, well, if you start a community, you’ll still talk about that passion but you’ll have a whole new passion that’ll suck up your time and that passion is community management. It takes you away from that hobby, that love, that passion, and puts you into that seat where you have to maintain the environment so that other people can have that same passion that you once had and hopefully still do.” –@patrickokeefe

On where she was hoping to see more progress: “It isn’t the internet or any of our tools that have failed. It is still us. It still comes right back to us and the people that are spreading ugliness. It’s them, not the internet. It’s a shame that they have a platform that they didn’t have before which allows them to grow. Again, the ugliness is in them.” –@stacyhorn

About Stacy Horn

Stacy Horn, who Mary Roach has hailed for “combining awe-fueled curiosity with topflight reporting skills,” is the author of six nonfiction books. Her newest is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad & Criminal in 19th Century New York. Her previous books include Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others, Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, and The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad, which received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

Over the years Horn has produced pieces for the NPR show, All Things Considered, including the 1945 story of five missing children in West Virginia, the Vatican’s search for a patron saint of the internet, and an overview of cold case investigation in the United States. Horn is also the founder of the New York City-based social network Echo. Echo was home to many online media firsts, including the first interactive tv show, which was co-produced with the then SciFi Channel.

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