J.K. Rowling’s best-selling career began with the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s [Sorcerer's] Stone” in June 1997. The seventh and final book was released July 21, 2007, an entire decade after the series’ debut.
For over ten years, Rowling’s books have built a global fanbase, dubbed “Pottermania.” Fans lined up outside bookstores for midnight releases of the last four books; filled movie theaters for days after the films’ releases; and most recently, queued up for entrance to Pottermore, Rowling’s official Harry Potter site.
“I’ve been on Pottermore ever since the second day of beta testing,” said Sarah Wolf. “I stayed up until really, really, really early in the morning to get my account. I was excited. I wanted to get into Pottermore.”
Wolf initially heard about the site from friends’ posts on Facebook, but followed up and researched on her own to discover the site’s purpose.
“I thought it would be this cool interactive website, kinda like a videogame, kinda like World of Warcraft,” Wolf said. “It’s not as exciting as expected, but being sorted into a house, because J.K. Rowling designed the sorting hat, so she decides, is awesome.”
Joel Rick, on the other hand, didn’t enter Pottermore with expectations for the site.
“This what it is, this is how it is, this is how Jo wanted it to be,” Rick said.
Wolf shared her disappointment with the site’s setup, but also stated that there was still plenty to do as a fan. She hopes in the future that Pottermore will continue to evolve and add more interactive features.
Currently, users can travel through each individual chapter of the first book, collect items such as Chocolate Frog Cards, potion ingredients and books, create potions and duel with other users through “wizard duels.”
Users also complete tasks such as purchasing a wand from Ollivander’s and getting Sorted into one of the four houses. House points are awarded for finding objects, winning duels and creating potions.
“You learn a lot of background information,” said Caitlin Schmidt. “There’s certain “ghost plots,” as Jo calls them, things that go on in the background of the books. And it makes it a more fun experience because you learn things you never knew about the characters and places.”
Schmidt came up with a solution to the networking difficulties through a Pottermore group on Facebook. There is a running list of friends’ names and usernames as seen on Pottermore, updated whenever someone new registers.
Schmidt heard about Pottermore through a podcast, “MuggleCast,” on a Harry Potter fansite, “Mugglenet.”
“They started to talk about this new, big release from J.K. Rowling,” Schmidt said. “The new movie hasn’t come out yet, but she’s talking about something new that’s coming out. They had a countdown on the website.”
Schmidt got onto Pottermore on the fourth day of beta testing in August 2011. There were five days in which fans could create an account, but only the first million were allowed into beta.
The site is not yet perfect. Dueling was not working properly during beta and the second book is not yet available for any users to access and explore.
“I wish they’d let you know how long until they’ll release the next book,” Rick said. “That’d be awesome, but they’re never gonna do that. They’re still on the Philosopher’s or Sorcerer’s Stone, depending on what publication you subscribe to.”
The actual interactive activities also create frustration with the site’s users. Potions involve a large time commitment and also incur costs, which cannot be made up as of yet, since there is no way to replenish the Galleons in Gringotts. Spells are also tricky to pull off and require a lot of hand-eye coordination between the screen and the keyboard or mouse.
“They have a fun social networking part where you can add your friends,” Wolf said. “The downside of that is that you have to contact them on other social networking websites because it just shows your username, not your actual name, so you have to confirm who you really are.”
Pottermore was scheduled to open to the public in October 2011, but the beta testing period was extended until April 14, when registration opened for everyone.
The delay for the opening of the site was a source of frustration, however, even for beta testers.
“Even though I was already on it, [the delay] irritated me because my friends couldn’t get on,” Rick said.
There have been several changes to the site’s features since beta opened up, Schmidt said. At first, there was no music. Items would move, but there were no sounds to go along with the images. However, the features that initially attracted fans, such as obtaining a wand and getting Sorted, remain unchanged.
“You actually get sorted into your official house, and it’s not like those stupid tests like you see on Facebook, where someone came up with a cute little quiz to try and tell you what your house is,” Schmidt said. “Jo wrote it herself. As nerdy as it sounds, it’s the most accurate way to find out what house you’re in.”
The Sorting is one of the main reasons that users register on Pottermore. Fans of the series want to find out where they fit into the Harry Potter world.
“Everyone wants to know what house they’re in. That’s the biggest reason why people get on Pottermore. You gotta know what house you’re in,” Rick said. “Even if you’re a Hufflepuff. You gotta know what house you’re in.”