Dibbell, Julian 1963-

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DIBBELL, Julian 1963-


Born February 23, 1963; married Jessica Chalmers, August 4, 1996; children: Lola. Education: Yale University, B.A. (English; summa cum laude), 1986.


Home—116 E. North Shore Dr., South Bend, IN 46617-1214. E-mail—[email protected].


Freelance journalist, 1986—; Village Voice, New York, NY, assistant editor, 1988-96, columnist, 1992-96; Time, New York, NY, contributing writer on technology, 1995-97.


ITT international fellowship, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago, Brazil, 1986-87.


My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Contributor to The Best American Science Writing 2002. Also contributor to numerous periodicals, including Wired, FEED (online magazine), and Terra Nova (collaborative Web log).


A long-time chronicler of online communities, Julian Dibbell has more recently earned a certain prominence for his online experiment in virtual economics. As a participant in the massive, multi-player fantasy game Ultima Online, Dibbell had accumulated a number of gold pieces, armor sets, and other game artifacts. In 2003 he announced on his Web log that he would be selling these artifacts to other players on eBay, an attempt to turn virtual products into real money using the online resources that have become so ubiquitous in the past few years.

Tapped into the unfolding potential of the Internet from its early days, Dibbell covered the development of virtual communities. In articles for the Village Voice and other media, he introduced readers to the world of multiuser dimensions (MUD's) and object-oriented MUDs (MOO's), which are online communities designed for conversation and role-playing. In these miniworlds, friendships, enmities, cyber-affairs, and even cyber-crimes take place. In My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, Dibbell recounts his own experiences at LambdaMOO and discusses a disturbing incident that shook up "Netizens" everywhere for a time. In addition to consensual cyber-sex and virtual affairs, MOOs had seen instances of cyber-stalking and even a virtual rape, which deeply shocked the community and raised difficult questions about the propriety of punishing a crime in which no actual physical contact takes place. The incident exacerbated questions of authority, justice, and the limits of personal freedom that LambdaMOO had begun to face. As New York Times reviewer Matt Richtel reported, "The debates," Dibbell discusses in his book reflect those surrounding "the formation of any society struggling to be democratic and create a rule of law."

In My Tiny Life Dibbell also discusses his personal struggle leading a dual life under the cyber-handle "Dr. Bombay," who has a passionate cyber affair, and as Julian Dibbell, whose real-life girlfriend grew increasingly uncomfortable with this situation. The result, in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is a "sprawling, dazzling book, accessible to the least initiated and full of insights for the most wizened."

More recently, Dibbell turned his attention to the world of online gaming, specifically the very popular Ultima Online, and decided to put his own economic security on the line in a curious experiment. Having accumulated various game items, such as runebooks, magical hammers, a virtual house, and a character "grandmastered in 4 desirable skills," Dibbell began selling these virtual assets on eBay in March of 2003, setting himself a goal of earning more from these sales in one month than he had ever earned from writing, and giving himself a deadline of April 15, 2004, to achieve this goal. In the end, his best month fell short by $683, but he still managed to earn the equivalent of $47,000 annually from the sale of purely imaginary goods. This result demonstratesn the allure of virtual reality that Dibbell has been covering since its humble beginnings.



Dibbell, Julian, My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.


Library Journal, December, 1998, Geoff Rotunno, review of My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, p. 142.

New York Times, December 17, 1998, Matt Richtel, "And Now, Back to Real Life," p. G12.

Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1998, review of My Tiny Life, p. 57.

Whole Earth, winter, 2000, review of My Tiny Life, p. 49.


Julian Dibbell Home Page,http://www.juliandibbell.com (August 27, 2003).

Wired.com,http://www.wired.com/ (April 16, 2004), Daniel Terdiman, "Virtual Trader Barely Misses Goal."*