Website review: Pottermore.com PDF Print E-mail

If you were upset when your Hogwarts letter failed to arrive back when you were 11, a new website by Harry Potter author JK Rowling will offer some belated comfort.

Pottermore.com is an innovative new website that aims to be a companion to the reading of the popular Harry Potter books. The books, which can be purchased in ebook or audiobook form directly from the site, are used as the basis for an online adventure that includes potion brewing, scavenger hunting, puzzle solving and even dueling with fellow students.

Each chapter of the books is illustrated in interactive scenes that can be explored and played with. Users can find hidden objects from the books in the scenes as well as additional information from the author about her process and inspiration. The site also includes new back story for minor characters that never made it into the books and more details about the "wizarding" world as the author imagined it.

Site users are given a quiz to determine what wand they receive and another to sort them into one of the four Hogwarts houses. Houses compete for points. Users can earn points by discovering items in the chapter scenes, by successfully brewing potions or by defeating one another in duels. 
 
Unfortunately only the first book in the 7-part series is available on the site at present, though the second is promised soon. 
 
 
Pottermore is classified by some as a social network, as you can add your real life friends and you are given a profile. You can also engage with other users with comments about the chapters or conversations within your house common rooms. It is clear, though, that meeting and engaging with other fans is not a primary purpose for the site.
 
For instance, you are unable to choose your own username, but are given four options – all of them magical sounding, but all of them including strings of numbers that make them nearly impossible to remember. The reason for this, the site says, is to protect children by forcing them to hide their true identities. If you know someone in real life, you can find out their name and add them as a friend. The profiles, probably for the same security reason, keep no personal information beyond how many chocolate frog cards you have collected. The conversation in the “common rooms” is limited to a comment form, and comments take a few minutes to show up – meaning conversation is practically impossible as the site stands at the moment. 
 
A nice touch, though, in terms of content sharing, is the provision made for fan art. Users can submit illustrations for the chapters as they complete them – a refreshing change from how authors usually deal tend to deal with fan-produced content (either ignore it or sue the creators for copyright infringement). 
 
While it would be nice to be able to customise one's profile more, and interact with fellow students a little more (throwing spells at Slytherins does not, in my view, suffice), for a site aimed at children, Pottermore is still enjoyable for the nostalgic among us. 
 
The little details are what really makes the experience magical – from the painted scenes and their atmospheric sound effects, to the wand (read “mouse”) actions needed to complete spells. Age does not, it turns out, equal potions prowess (though perhaps my inability to draft a suitable Boil Antidote is more to do with my being a Hufflepuff). While many may be relieved that there are no snide Severus Snape comments, or house points deductions for adding the wrong amount of porcupine quill, the exercise is realistic enough to give you a taste of what it would be like studying at the magical school. 
 
Which is all any of us really wanted the first time we read the books anyway.
 
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