A one-way ticket to Hogwarts: the old Pottermore

 

Pottermore logo from the site's launch in 2011
Pottermore logo from the site’s launch in 2011.

Launch of Pottermore

In June of 2011 JK Rowling announced a new, online way to experience Harry Potter – Pottermore.

The idea behind it was to create an interactive eBook whereby new young readers (along with older nostalgic readers) of Harry Potter could follow the books while interacting with the gamified aspects.  JK Rowling initiated a Magical Quill challenge that allowed one million lucky people to gain early access to Pottermore as beta users.  The general site launched in April of 2012.  The way it worked was that any user could register for an account, and after taking a quiz would be sorted into one of the Hogwarts houses and would receive their own individual wand.  Then their adventure into the books could begin.  Between April of 2012 when the site officially launched and 2015, all seven books were released.  Each book was broken down into chapters and each chapter broken down into “moments” or illustrated scenes.  Below is a Let’s Play video showing you one of the first moments of Book 1 Chapter 1.  

Each moment had several zoom layers in which you could click around to collect various items, as well as a summary of that scene from the books and annotated blurbs from JK Rowling providing extra backstory to the characters or settings.  In addition to moving through the moments, users could brew potions and participate in duels.  Pottermore was also the first (and to this day, the only) place one could purchase the official eBook editions of the Harry Potter series.

New Pottermore

In September 2015, the old Pottermore was replaced with a revamped new version (www.pottermore.com) which removed all interactive gamified features.  You can now sign into your own account and still get sorted and get your wand, but aside from that you can only look through the Buzzfeed-esque website for JK Rowling’s writings and articles published by the “Pottermore Correspondent.” This Mugglenet article puts it this way: “Basically, they seem to have gotten rid of many of the features that made Pottermore more than just another fansite.”  The pros of the new website is that it focuses more on JK Rowling’s writings (which is what a lot of Pottermore users liked the most about the old Pottermore), it can keep us updated on new upcoming Harry Potter happenings (like the new play coming out this summer), and there’s a rumor going around that soon a Patronus quiz will be available (still waiting on that).  However, the new website provides a very different experience indeed from the old Pottermore.

Why the old Pottermore is worth saving

I believe the old Pottermore site is worth archiving from several angles.  First, it serves as an important milestone for the history of the cultural phenomenon that is Harry Potter, marking the first time that the Harry Potter books were available in eBook form.  Second, the site serves as a unique instance of an author converting her original printed work into an online experience, so it provides an interesting study of the crossover between literature and online gaming.  

The website would be interesting to study from the point of view of a historian of cloud computing or software development.  As outlined in this Microsoft article, the initial beta version of Pottermore was built using Windows Server; however, it quickly became evident that a much larger scale platform would be needed for the anticipated Facebook-level numbers of users.  The team chose Windows Azure as their solution because it offered a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), meaning that Pottermore could be moved from the Windows Server to Windows Azure without having to manage and maintain virtual machines.  The ideal archiving situation for this, of course, would be to get a hold of the original Windows Server files as well as the newer Windows Azure files and all of the documentation that goes with it.  However, since all versions of the old site are completely removed and under tight lock and key by JK Rowling and the Pottermore team, this won’t be possible.  

From an ethnographic/cultural historian’s perspective, it is just as important to capture the documentation of the experience of engaging with Pottermore, and this will be a lot easier for me to accomplish.  Luckily, there was a lot left behind.  And I believe it is crucial to collect what I can, because just in case at some point in the future JK Rowling and/or Sony decide to release the old versions of Pottermore, it would be useful and important to preserve the supplementary materials that would provide more context as to how it was originally used.  Lowood, in his discussion about preserving virtual worlds, asserts that it is important to capture the “subjective level of experience within communities” when it comes to virtual worlds.  Although Pottermore technically isn’t a virtual world, I think this still applies.  

In terms of supplementary materials, the main source of information regarding content kept on the website and how it was played was the Pottermore Wiki.  This wiki served as a game guide, created and maintained by dedicated Pottermore users.  It’s organized into chapters, locations, items, and characters.  The content includes JK Rowling’s annotated blurbs, the various objects that could be found in each moment, and images and screenshots from the game.  There is also a page dedicated to Pottermore on the Harry Potter wiki outlining the history of Pottermore from its announcement to present and its features (old and new).

There were also subreddits created like r/pottermore and r/pottermorewritings which would be helpful sources for stories and comments from the users about their experience with Pottermore.  The Pottermore Writings subreddit is especially useful since it has archives posts of JK Rowling’s writings from the old Pottermore in a navigable fashion.  In addition, there are Let’s Play videos such as the one earlier in this post showing the interactive aspects of Pottermore, including zooming through the moments, duels, brewing potions, and earning House Cup points.

As one Pottermore fan put it on the Harry Potter subreddit, “the whole point of Pottermore […] was getting to have an experience that was as close as I was ever going to get to going to Hogwarts.” The old Pottermore was a very unique experience in allowing Harry Potter fans to walk in Harry’s footsteps, exploring the books in an interactive digital way straight from the author herself.  And because the old site itself is lost to us for now, I believe it is essential to capture the traces of Pottermore left behind.

Hogwart's express; one of the moments from the old Pottermore.
Ready to begin this new adventure of archiving Pottermore!

17 Replies to “A one-way ticket to Hogwarts: the old Pottermore”

  1. How much of the original content does the Pottermore wiki have? Are you thinking about trying to make sure all the information that site contained is still accessible, or are you thinking more about the possibility of recreating the experience of using it, a la an emulator? And I assume there was never any satisfactory explanation given as to why the content type was switched — are there any major theories? I wonder if there’s plans to commodify the original version, or if their site statistics drop enough for the new version (doubtful) that they’d switch back, or have both usable again.

    1. Great questions! And I’ve definitely been slowly thinking through all of them myself when I wrote this post. The Pottermore wiki as it stands right now includes all of the original content before the version switched; it also includes a small portion of the new version’s content (although a lot of the content on the new version was imported from the old one).

      As for the reasons for the version switch, there were various explanations I could find. First off it seems that Sony (a partner for the original version) had backed out of the partnership, and so a lot of the revenue maintaining the site had gone. Also, since Pottermore was originally intended for a younger generation of new HP readers (kids), the first version has a lot of gamified elements. However, once Rowling and her team realized that most of the people on Pottermore were young adults, they thought that the new version, which is more like Buzzfeed and can be presented as a mobile site, might be more attractive to that audience. Lastly, Rowling and her team also realized that what people really liked about Pottermore was JK Rowling’s writings – the extra tidbits that JK Rowling provides on the places, characters, and plot.

      Since Sony was a major backer for the first Pottermore and they’ve dropped out, I doubt that the old version will come back. So for me, it’s more about preserving what I can from the traces left behind.

  2. Thrilled that you brought in some of Lowood’s points about MMOs. I think that documentary mode that we discussed in relationship to MMOS is likely to get you the best results with this kind of work. So things like the “Lets Play” video seem to do a great job of documenting the nature of the work and someone’s interpretation of it.

    Along with that, the story about the technical platform and server infrastructure of this seems to suggest the need and value for some substantial technical understanding of how it developed and changed. I imagine some of that might be best explored through something like interviewing some of the folks that worked on the development of the site. That is if you could find them.

    The reaction to the change in pottermore also seems like something that makes this story significant too. The dialog between an author of a work and their fans when they change it seems like an important piece of this story too. So in that vein, collecting a lot of the discussion of how it was changed would get the dual value of documenting the elements that changed and of documenting reactions to the changes.

    It would be good to hear a bit more about what different kinds of stakeholders you think would be interested in different aspects of this work. That is, who do you think will care about what aspects of this now and in the future. I think that will likely clarify what parts of this are the most important to go after.

    If a big part of this becomes identifying individual web pages where folks are discussing the site, I could imagine something as simple as curating a list of individual pages to save using Internet Archive’s save page now button. With that noted, it is worth underscoring that you would want to go back to be sure that you were capturing things like the videos which are often tricky for web archiving tools to capture and preserve.

    1. I’ve managed to find one co-founder of Pottermore, so I’m going to try and find his contact information to find out more information about the platform. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that a lot of different parties were involved in the making of Pottermore. Pottermore was funded by a partnership between JK Rowling and Sony, but they hired a UK digital company called TH_NK to create the site, and TH_NK used Windows Azure to store all of it. Bloomsbury and Scholastic publishing companies and Warner Bros. were also involved in supporting the launch of Pottermore. So I think it would be very difficult to put all of the pieces together in terms of software development.

      In terms of the different stakeholders, I’ve been looking through more and more angles. First would be software developers and digital companies like TH_NK who are interested in how such a successful digital experience was developed. Second would be publishing companies and authors looking to online publishing, since Pottermore was/is a wildly successful publishing feat – since Pottermore was the only place to buy the eBook editions of the series. Third would be Pottermore users, the group of fans who preferred the older version, so there’s a definitely a factor of nostalgia in the motive for preservation from this angle. Fourth would be potential future users; if Rowling and the Pottermore team ever decide to release the old version of Pottermore, then these preserved materials could provide them with context on how to use it. Lastly, I’ve thought about future museum curators, online curators, or venues like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – institutions interested in the history of the franchise and the HP universe. Similar to how there’s Harry Potter: The Exhibition which travels around the world showing fans the behind the scenes props and costumes from the Harry Potter films, I can imagine an online exhibition dedicated to Pottermore which includes the content released by Rowling, Magical Quill challenge that set off the launch, the fans’ stories, etc. It is largely through this last angle that I’m interested in pursuing the preservation. So I like your idea of curating a set of websites about Pottermore, and furthermore I’d like to archive the Pottermore wiki, the subreddit Pottermore (and I’ll ask them in a specific post about their stories), etc.

  3. I am actually really excited to see how this project goes. I am a Harry Potter/Pottermore fan that has enjoyed both sites. I think it’s great that you’re trying to get a grasp the original Pottermore from the users perspective, and what a great resource is Pottermore Wiki! Have you thought about also searching for technical problems and troubleshooting pages as well? It might be interesting to see what is out there about maybe some problems that happened with the old Pottermore. Good luck!

    1. Thanks! I like your idea about looking for troubleshooting pages – I know a lot of posts on the r/Pottermore subreddit were about troubleshooting so that would be helpful to keep. I also remember checking on Pottermore wiki a lot when I was on Pottermore to make sure I had collected all of the items that I could.

  4. I hope that all your work gives us piece some day for the future generations!! JK Rowlings doestn´t realize, i think, that there are millions of new fans, young kids that love Harry Potter….Hope one day we get it back!! and hope that Warner Bros. that are very interested in all this could help us bring it back!!

  5. I totally agree that we should archive it! The new website has only these interactive features:

    ‘Discover your Hogwarts house’
    ‘Discover your Ilvermony house’
    ‘Discover your patronus’
    ‘Discover your wand’

    and that’s it. The rest is all articles. The original charm of Pottermore is lost, and if the website was archived it would make a way to still virtually get lost in Hogwarts and Diagon alley. We don’t even need quizzes, you can get those anywhere! But not the shops, and the potion classes, and the illustrations! (which you could zoom in and out on) I want it back, personally.

    1. I wish that could be….like the new one, but….not the same as the first old one!! maybe they can put together the two and it would be awsome!!! even for the new generations!!

    2. Amy, I just want to ad that I completely agree with you. Also, I have children who had accounts on the old Pottermore, who are unable to get accounts on the new site, and therefore can not find out their patronus or Ilvermorny house. This saddens me the most. Weren’t these supposed to be childrens books after all?

    3. I just redid all those little quizzes. And they were alright. But the old site was more magical than it is now. I wish they would bring that back. And both of my kids loved the sight as well. But this new one doesn’t seem to care these books were for children. I liked reading the new articles. But they would be more fun reading if they were added to the old pottermore in a new ‘section’. Instead of making what it is now.

  6. I was a beta user for the old site and I can’t tell you how much I miss it! I loved the interactivity and the idea that if you read the site and the books in tandem, you would have all of this new information. I loved that there were duels and house cups and potions making. The art style was fantastic. It really just helped immerse you in the story just that much further and I really want to experience it once again. I’m very interested to see where this project goes, and wish you the absolute best of luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *