Early access to J.K Rowling, WB, and Sony's Pottermore started last week for those first lucky million who won a golden ticket in the Quick Quill Challenge. I was among the lucky few who got into the beta through the Challenge, and got my "Hogwarts letter" on the 19th. I have been checking out the site for the past few days. It does look interesting and those who are inside are very excited. Those who aren't are a bit pissed, as replies to HP fan-actress Evanna Lynch's tweets have hinted @Evy_Lynch.
The site uses Flash (sorry iDevice users) to render 2-4 scenes per chapter (of the first book so far) in the Potter series with great taste. In each chapter, you can zoom in and out of the image and read up on some of the places, characters and objects. Some intersting new material is found here and there and a more glossary-like entry for most items and people.
Users are taken through the first book in the series and sorted into one of the four houses when Harry is. I'm a Ravenclaw. By following the story they get to simulate some soft of "going to Hogwars experience", but all through the eyes and story of Harry. No doing your own thing/aventure here.
They can win or lose House points by finding objects in the story (the Flash animations in each chapter), brewing potions or dueling (the latter two have been seriously glitchy). There will be a House Cup awarded and competition between the Houses has been fierce. Users can also friend each other and write comments in most sections of the site as well as upload their own drawing of characters, places and objects. That's nice! I've seen all sorts of great pictures and was surprised that many are not influenced by the movies. So far, that's the end of the interactive-social-sharing features.
But I wished for more. I expected more. The Harry Potter fandom has long been an example of online creativity and community. Henry Jenkins highlights these aspects in Convergence Culture (2006). Discussion of the canon is one of the main aspects of Potter fandom. Forums devoted to discussing ideas in the books still have thousands of users and active discussions (though since the last book came out they sure have been losing momentum). With the promise of new material I expected interesting discussions about the relation between this and the series. But the comments sections are no good for this. For once, they're not threaded, making it impossible to have a discussion of any kind. And they are not placed in the story, but in the objects, places and people encyclopedia-like entries. They are hard to follow and find. I asked a question and was almost unable to find it again to look for replies. Not to say try and find replies without threads! This constructive aspect of HP fandom was totally overlooked.
The other amazing feature of online Potter fandom is fan fiction (again, see Jenkins 2006). I didn't have high hopes for this, but it's totally absent from Pottermore. I was probably naïve to think it would be a part of the site.
Despite these two big issues, Pottermore has been a fun engulfing experience. But what is it? It's not the books turned webpage: those aren't even there. I'd expected to find e-versions, but I guess that will come later, with other merchandise and a cost. Which fan wouldn't want to buy their wand or house scarf? The site recommends you read the book while you navigate through Pottermore, but it's not an attempt at transmedia storytelling, either. You do not need Pottermore to be in the loop with the story. So far it doesn't add much to it. Let's hope it will. As for the movies, they don't add to the books (I'd argue they subtract), so the whole books-movies-Pottemore trio is not really transmedia... It's also not a game. There is no agency from the user in the story (other than the House Cup). It's not a book, not a game, not really transmedia... what is Pottermore? I still have no clue. Maybe an attempt at a new genre, but it's been fun!
We'll have to see what happens when all the beta feedback is worked out and the bugs are fixed. There have been very many bugs. It's like the site got a Bat Bogey hex from Ginny!
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture. Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.