Pottermore opens to public, leaves many students underhwelmed

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Pottermore was first announced on Jun. 15, 2011 as J.K. Rowling’s next Harry Potter project. The only information given out was the official logo. Then on Jun. 23, 2011, Rowling released an official announcement video that described Pottermore as an “online reading experience unlike any other.” The video was vague and didn’t exactly explain what the initial purpose of the website was, but Rowling did announce that Pottermore would be open to the public in October and a “lucky few” would be able to enter early. All one had to do was “follow the owl.”

I was one of the many who immediately went on the website when it was announced to sign up for updates, but there were so many people trying to get on the website that it continuously crashed due to overcapacity of the server. The same message — “Pottermore is currently unavailable. Please come back later” — constantly popped up. Finally, after re-submitting my information over and over again, I was able to complete the form. Many months went by and I never received any e-mail. I went on vacation over the summer only to come back and realized that the owl I was supposed to be following “flew away” and I missed my chance to enter Pottermore early. Pottermore offered 1 million users a chance to enter into the website early in order to discover any problems or changes the staff needed to make before opening it to the public.  All one had to do to enter the beta session was go through “The Magical Quill Challenge,” where individuals answered Harry Potter-related questions every day for a week, which would lead them to the location of the Magical Quill.

In beta, it was known that the site was having problems, most of them stemming from the unstable platform, which was not large enough to hold mass amounts of activity at a time. A million people were said to have been let in early and many complained of bugs and continual log-in problems.

“I was one of the first 100 betas and I finished the story in about two days,” third-year Shelby Von Hofe said. “I’m never on, though, because it is kind of boring and it’s hard to do spells and potions on a laptop.”

First-year Delaney Verger was another one of the beta users. “It was exciting for the first week but because it was so new and because so many people were just getting to use it, but the site would often either be down when I tried to go on it or it would freeze and shut down when I was already using it,” she said.  “It wasn’t as exciting after I had already been sorted and received my wand.” Verger quickly became bored with Pottermore and hasn’t been on the website for many months.

October came and went and the Pottermore staff, still having trouble with the website, decided to extend the beta period, ominously announcing that it would not be open “in the near future” and that they “thank you for your patience.”

After many months of repeatedly checking the Pottermore Insider blog and finding no news on when it would open, I began to give up on Pottermore. But a few weeks ago, I realized I hadn’t checked on the website in a while and decided to give it a look. Surprisingly, there was an announcement stating that Pottermore would be open to the public in early April 2012. I was skeptical but decided to keep my eye on the website once April began.  Pottermore opened closer to mid-April than early April but at this point, it was better than nothing.

After waiting almost a year for the website to open, I, along with many other Harry Potter fans, was frustrated. After all this extra time working on the system, I was expecting a smooth website with a lot of activities and extra features, but I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up. So I created an account, naturally thinking that Pottermore would be similar to most websites and would send out a confirmation e-mail immediately, but unfortunately I had to wait almost 10 hours just for my information to be approved in order to complete the registration process. Then, I had to wait another hour or so for another e-mail that finally allowed me to enter the website.

To sign up, Pottermore asks for the usual information (name, e-mail, date of birth, country and password). It then asks users to check what movies and books they have read out of the Harry Potter series (this is later listed on one’s profile). Then each “witch” or “wizard” gets to choose out of a list of five user names that are preselected. Naturally, each username relates to Harry Potter in some way. According to the Pottermore staff the names are preselected for child safety purposes and identity protection — basically, the Pottermore staff don’t want any usernames such as xSleazyWeasleyx, SlytherinBabe69 or HarryPothead420.

One is able to follow Harry through the events that happen in each chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Going through each chapter, one is prompted to search for items that are supposed to be useful later in the game. The most appealing aspect of Pottermore is the ability to uncover exclusive content from Rowling, such as background stories on characters, notes on the less mentioned Houses, explanations on the types of wand wood and cores and descriptions on how some of her ideas came to be formed.

The most popular chapter is Chapter 7, “The Sorting Hat,” where one is administered a seven-question quiz composed of ambiguous questions in order to be sorted into a particular house. The questions range from “Left or Right?” and “Heads or Tails?” to more complex questions which put you in hypothetical situations.

“I only did Pottermore to see what House I was in,” first-year Jacob “Alex” Slater said.  “I knew I would be a Gryffindor, just like Harry Potter.” Slater has never read the Harry Potter books but he has seen all the movies. “I will probably never go back on Pottermore now that I have been sorted because it is very boring and it takes a long time,” he said. “It took me seven levels just to figure out what House I was in, which is like 20 minutes with no action and just clicking on stuff.”

What bothers me the most is that, after all this time, Pottermore only allows access to the first book. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is said to open at the end of this year. If it takes the Pottermore staff as long to create the other books as it took to create the first book I’ll be about 30 years old when the final book opens.

After finishing the entire first book, there are only two mini-games one can play until the second book opens at the end of the year — Wizard’s Dueling and Potions. The games are a little glitchy and are not very easy to play. There isn’t very much skill involved and the games soon become tiresome after a few times of playing them.

Second-year James Eveland was one of the many who had high hopes for Pottermore. “I thought it would be an interesting way to interact with the books more,” he said. “As someone who has not read them, but has tried, I was hoping it would encourage me to finish the series.” Eveland was disappointed in the mini-games and the website overall. “It just didn’t live up to the hype,” he said.

Pottermore is all that was promised to be but many users seem to have expected more. I’m not completely disappointed with it because of the new material from Rowling, but overall, Pottermore is less of an “online experience” than a child-restricted Harry Potter-themed Facebook.

Evaluation: Marginal Sat

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