Early in 2003, Contributing editor of WIRED and technology writer Julian Dibbell set out to test the following proposition: “On April 15, 2004, I will truthfully report to the IRS that my primary source of income is the sale of imaginary goods — and that I earn more from it, on a monthly basis, than I have ever earned as a professional writer.” The imaginary goods are items used in the multi-player online extravaganza known as Ultima Online, everything from (imaginary) gold coins to (imaginary) suits of armor, and they are bought and sought on eBay, among other places. The tax return was filed, and it listed a net profit … but I won’t give away the end of the story.
Julian Dibbell is the author of one of best books ever written about the Internet, the record of his earlier experiment in ‘living online,’ _My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World_ (Henry Holt, 1999). Part memoir and part ethnography, it’s about the social life of the online, text-based virtual world LambdaMOO and Dibbell’s brief encounter with it. Andrew Leonard, in Salon, called it “the best book yet on the meaning of online life.” He is presently finishing a book about the “play money” experiment.