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Review: William Gillespie, Dylan Meissner, and Nick Montfort. (2000). The Ed Report.

– Reviewed by Nick Montfort, October 17, 2000
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Editor's Note: I was going to review the Ed Report, a "War of the Worlds" type Web site and in preparing to do so, I thought I'd get background information from one of its authors. As I read Nick's email, I realized this is one time when a reviewer may have the good sense to step aside and let an author introduce and review some of his text's elements. Of course, as in any review, the text is the real answer to your questions, and readers are always needed. Anyhow, if you received the email below, wouldn't you want to go to

-- Will Hochman, Reviews Editor

Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2000 00:01:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Nick Montfort <>
To: Will Hochman <>
Subject: Review of the Ed Report in Academic.Writing

Will --

Sorry for the delay in responding. Poetry is keeping me busy!

I will certainly fill you in again about the Ed Report's creation. I'm very glad you have interest in doing a review. So, here's a letter-sized email about how the Ed Report was formulated. Feel free to quote from it -- as long as you don't quote any grammatically incorrect or misspelled parts verbatim! Let me know if you have further questions about how the project came together.

William and I had seen each other previous to DAC '99 in Atlanta, Georgia, at the end of October, but really first got to talk at that conference. Afterwards, he contacted me and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a project. We had found early on that we both liked (and wrote) constrained literature of the sort the French literary group OuLiPo (with Perec, Calvino, Queaneau, Harry Mathews) has promoted. I was interested in the deadpan potential of the bland prose style of the government report, as well as the broad influence of the Starr Report, while William's writing is rather politically oriented at times. The government report format seemed like a good idea. I was also really into Gilgamesh at the time -- a strange, fragmentary epic. Also, I was interested in the idea of epic being an early form of interactive narrative, composed in performance to suit particular audiences. I sent William some very small fragments of a story I'd been working on -- basically something of the first installment. We changed a lot of that (point of view, for instance) to make it consistent with what a government report would be like, sketched out characters, devised some basic plot events and structural ideas, and got working on the "frame story" and hoax aspects of the Ed Report. William was interested in Latin American drug interdiction and had read up on it a good bit by this point. I believe the Colombian setting of the second section was his idea. He'd developed several "supplemental" texts early on that started to develop the tone of the piece. We had come up with the name "The Ed Report" pretty early on, although we considered "The Epic of Fred" or "The Epic of Ed" as well, to begin with.

Except for William's extremely productive five-day trip to New York, when the two of us met in person, William and I wrote the Ed Report separately, in contact by phone and email. He was in Urbana, Illinois and I was in New York. We used an FTP server to maintain the master files, checking out sections as we'd work on them. We'd write things and edit each other's work, sometimes each writing original bits of what would eventually be one single text.

Our collaboration with the Ed Report designer, Dylan Meissner, was even more long-distance. He lives in Seattle, and he's never met either William or I in person. A mutual friend who I know only though a New York coffeehouse introduced us via email. Dylan did all the Web programming and production, in addition to doing the creative work on all the visual elements of the site and the "ad campaign" (posters, business cards.)

We launched the Ed Report during the time of Computers and Writing 2K and ACM Hypertext 2000. The timing was very deliberate, and turned out to be a very ambitious self-imposed deadline, which we worked very hard to meet. We didn't actually present the Ed Report at either conference, though we did advertise it -- Scott Rettberg & William even let me plug the Ed Report before the assembled ACM Hypertext crowd, as the Unknown reading was starting. We had the first Ed Report reading June 9, 200, in New York City, alongside Bill Bly, Rob Witting, Stephanie Strickland, Jennifer Ley, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Adrianne Wortzel, and Scott Rettberg. The info about that reading is at Our second reading was done in Bergen, Norway, at Digital Arts and Culture 2000.

Of course the report is entirely fiction. We don't include a copyright notice as that would be a give-away -- government reports are in the public domain. We do reveal in the meta tags on the main page that the work is fiction, however. It's certainly easy for people to come to the site and not know what the hell is going on, which is both good and bad! The funny stuff is not very visible up top, but want people to feel like they're finding out about something secret and enigmatic -- which they are, even though it's a work of fiction. Once they get to the bits with Bruce Springsteen, of course, it's probably tough for them to go on reading credulously, and I imagine most careful readers will conclude that the work is fictional after giving several installments a read.

As I wrote up top, let me know if there are other questions. Also, of course, feel free to contact William or Dylan (or all three of us via if you like.

-Nick Montfort We put the "er..." back into hypertext.
<> <> The Ed Report. <>

Publication Information: Montfort, Nick. (2000). [Review of the Web site The Ed Report,]. Academic.Writing.
Publication Date: November 8, 2000
DOI: 10.37514/AWR-J.2000.1.5.16

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Copyright © 2000 Nick Montfort. Used with permission.