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.
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.