|Dates:||July 31, 2011-present|
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Pottermore was originally created as an official promotional Harry Potter website, which developed into a thriving community for Harry Potter fans. The Leaky Cauldron's webmaster, Melissa Anelli, has been involved with the project since October 2009.
The original site was a joint project of J.K. Rowling and Sony. It included small games (such as duelling and potion-brewing), chat spaces, shopping and the ability to explore the Harry Potter books in an interactive way, with all-new artwork and exclusive behind-the-scenes details by J.K. Rowling.
It was in beta from July 31, 2011, and opened to the public in April 2012. Sony withdrew from this collaboration in early 2014.
The Pottermore fan community was active from the launch of the site's beta in 2011 up until 2015, when most of the interactive features were removed from the site. In that time, the Pottermore community spread across numerous other corners of the internet and spawned blogs, fanworks, spin-off websites and more.
In 2016, Pottermore was revamped in the style of a blog with a focus on new writing from Rowling, news and special feature articles.
Pottermore remains the official promotional arm of the franchise.
Harry Potter Websites and Sony
What made Pottermore even more remarkable was its timing. Ten years ago, with the first of the Potter movies a few months from being released, the world of Potter fandom was riven by strife. The PotterWar — thus yclept by a London city councilman who leapt into the fray—pitted Warner Bros. against a citizen's army of Web-savvy kids. The movie studio was eager to protect the trademarks it had bought from Rowling; the kids were outraged that a giant corporation was threatening them with legal action for using the Potter name on Web sites they'd set up to celebrate the story. In the end, it was no contest: As Heather Lawver, the 16-year-old leader of the insurrection, told Henry Jenkins for his book Convergence Culture, "They underestimated how interconnected our fandom was." By the time the hapless company beat a retreat, it was being excoriated from British pulpits for placing children in its legal crosshairs.
Some fans consider Pottermore a desperate attempt for JK Rowling to hold on to the Harry Potter universe and Harry Potter fame. Considering the continued love for Harry Potter though, it can be argued that it has succeeded.
Message Boards & Chat Spaces
Pottermore originally had a number of message boards and chat spaces on the site for users to interact in. The Great Hall was the main inter-house chat space, and was a popular site for roleplaying. Each house had a Common Room that was a message board where users of that house to gather and interact, and the different interactive ‘moments’ of the Harry Potter story which users could explore also had their own comment sections. Later on, Pottermore also created messaging boards for duelling and brewing, along with separate leaderboards for each activity.
Stringent moderation was employed on the Pottermore message boards, as the site was designed to be a children’s website and placed a heavy (many users would say unnecessarily heavy) emphasis on making everything as “child-friendly” as possible. The site’s filters were designed to detect and prevent messages from being sent when they contained certain banned words and phrases, such as country names (to prevent users from sharing their location), numbers (to prevent users from giving their age), curse words, website URLs or names, such as YouTube or Facebook (to prevent users from luring others off-site) and many other words not in the dictionary or which were uncommon. ‘Magical’ words from the Harry Potter series were generally an exception to this rule, despite not being in the dictionary.
However, every so often the moderation filters appeared to refresh themselves or be renewed, and many previously allowed words were suddenly banned. Common workarounds used by site members were also added to the filters over time, forcing users to devise new ones.
Pottermore’s message boards also had a manual report function which allowed users to flag up a comment they found offensive or which broke the rules, causing it to disappear from the message board until it was re-approved by a moderator. However, this could take an unknown amount of time, leaving the report function wide open to abuse by trolls, who would sometimes take to reporting every single comment which appeared on the boards, making communication impossible for hours at a time.
Comments were also occasionally eaten by glitches, which were nicknamed "nargles" by the Pottermore community in reference to the mischievous, thieving creature from the Harry Potter series.
The site moderation was the source of a great deal of frustration amongst Pottermore users, and came to be known as “Umbridge” for its autocratic, inflexible and arbitrary nature. It did not, however, stop a thriving community from forming on Pottermore’s message boards, and users found innumerable creative ways to skirt the moderation in order to communicate their desired messages.
The strict moderation also caused a number of Pottermore fandom communities to form on other websites where users could talk more freely. The biggest of these was Facebook, where some of the community is still active to this day. Others included house-focused websites and communities such as Gryffinroar, Rune’s Potion Chamber, Ravenclaws of Pottermore, and many more.
On 13 April 2015, Pottermore announced a deactivation of the messaging boards across the entirety of the site, along with the eradication of user statuses – Facebook-style statuses on user profiles which were used as another means of communication.
Nicknames on Pottermore
Due to another of the site’s child safety measures, it was not possible for users to create their own username on Pottermore. Rather, upon signing up to Pottermore, users could choose from a selection of possible usernames created by combining two magical words with a string of numbers (e.g. AccioGoblet12345). Users who joined during the beta test were given usernames with one or two numbers at the end, while users who joined after the public opening had three or more numbers in their username.
Pottermore had a feature that allowed members to give ‘nicknames’ to users they were friends with on the site, which would appear instead of that person’s username in their friends list and next to all of that person’s actions on the site. These were only visible to the individual user, so they weren't subject to any of the usual moderation restrictions.
In order to distinguish themselves when writing comments on the site, many users would sign their nickname at the end of each comment, like so: -Tonks This was a practice that originated during beta, and carried over into the site’s public release. Pottermore members would also use these as their identity in Pottermore communities elsewhere online, such as on Facebook.
Predictably, nicknames relating to Harry Potter canon characters or creatures (such as “Harry”, “Hermione”, “Owl” or “Hedwig”) were the most popular, and arguments often sprang up over who had a particular nickname ‘first’. To resolve this, some users kept lists of which nicknames were taken by who. In Gryffindor, the site Gryff Names was created during beta as a public record of who had which nickname. In Hufflepuff, Mrs W and her extensive friends list served as an unofficial nickname registry, and during beta, Sparrow FlightSilver kept a nickname list. After the site’s public release, River Taylor created Puff Names, a Hufflepuff nickname site in the style of Gryff Names. After the removal of interactive elements on Pottermore when many users had moved to HEX, the site also listed Hufflepuff members’ HEX names.
Houses on Pottermore
The Sorting Hat Test
Pottermore had its own Sorting test which was designed by J.K. Rowling herself, and for a huge number of Potter fans, the main appeal of Pottermore was the ability to take the “official” Sorting test and find out their “true” house (and wand, which was the result of a separate quiz). Of course, not everyone was pleased with the result, and many fans who had spent years identifying with one particular house only to be Sorted by Pottermore into another one were disillusioned, and felt turned off the website as a result. This feeling was particularly strong amongst fans who had managed to get a rare beta account, and didn't feel as though they could take part in the beta with an account in that house, or knew they would have to wait months for the site to open to the public so that they could be re-Sorted.
The Sorting Hat test was designed to be difficult to cheat or predict, and many questions had just two options, or six, rather than the obvious four. Of course, users did their best to work out which option led to which, either in an attempt to get their desired House, or simply out of academic interest. The Pottermore Sorting: Sorting Hat Analysis and Meta blog collected together data from users as to which answers they gave in the test and which house they were Sorted into, and combined it with insights from the Harry Potter series to try and divine which answers led to which house. The Masterpost for Pottermore Sorting Questions collects all of this data in one place.
House-Switching & Inter-House Rivalry
It was not uncommon to switch house on Pottermore, as it was theoretically possible to create as many different accounts as you had email addresses, and retake the Sorting test each time. Many fans would do this if they were disappointed with their initial Sorting, or felt it was inaccurate; others would deliberately create accounts in different houses, either to see what they were like, or to infiltrate their communities.
The core of the Pottermore fandom tended to look down on house-switching as a disloyal act, and it was often associated with cheating behaviour – for example, users could fraudulently earn points by sending duel challenges to an account in another house, then purposely throw the duel. Additionally, having multiple Pottermore accounts was against the website’s Terms of Service. However, others took it less seriously; some reasoned that if it was possible to create accounts in multiple houses, then why shouldn't they? Others believed it was pointless to consider the Pottermore Sorting test on a par with the “real” Sorting hat, as it was only an online quiz; still others felt an affinity towards multiple houses, and so wanted to explore this with multiple accounts.
A meta essay by Hufflepuff River Taylor in 2013, House-Switching on Pottermore, analysed the attitudes towards house-switching and multi-house alignment through interviews with four members of the community, two of whom had been involved in a bet where the loser promised to switch to the other’s house. In it, she wrote:
Amongst people who pour hours and hours of their time into earning points on Pottermore, socialising with other users and generally helping their house, house-switching is seen as disloyal. A user who switches houses is often viewed to have turned their back on their community, and labelled a “traitor” or a “turn-coat”. The attitude of Pottermore users towards their houses has come to mirror that of Hogwarts students in the Harry Potter series, even though house-switching isn’t possible in the “real” Hogwarts.
I know that Pottermore is more than just a website or an imitation Hogwarts to so many of us, and I know the same goes for Blue Snitch (Nikos Seeker Crimson) and Asta Black. I’m not going to make the argument that accounts and houses shouldn’t mean as much as they do to people. I also understand that often house-switching is done without any prior notice or information, and sometimes the user in question cuts off all ties with their old house, which makes it that much harder to understand their decision and feel like they truly valued their time as part of that house.But however much we might want to be, we’re not at Hogwarts, and house-switching on Pottermore is not just a possibility, it’s easy to do. Anyone who’s read my earlier musings on houses and identity will know that I think it’s not only possible, but normal, to align with more than one house. And each one of the Pottermore house communities is made up of amazing people who are great to be around. With that in mind, why should we vilify anyone who might want to explore different sides of their personality and get the chance to become closer to a new set of like-minded people?
The Change to WizardingWorld
- Pottermore With ElmDawn: The diary of a Gryffindor beta user, ElmDawn140
- Elm Goes to Hogwarts: The blog of a Slytherin beta, ElmBlade43
- River Taylor | I See Sparks: A blog about Harry Potter, Pottermore and geek culture, by a Hufflepuff, River Taylor/SparksSeer21001
- Expecto Patronum! Canonical Potter and Pottermore: A blog for thoughts on Snape, Dumbledore and redemption, Harry Potter re-reads and Pottermore content
- Reliving the Magic: A blog on the life of the Boy Who Lived: News about Pottermore and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and reflections on the books and films, by a Ravenclaw, Anya Featherquill
- Pottermore Sorting: Sorting Hat Analysis and Meta
Links & Resources
- Pottermore at Harry Potter Wiki
- Pottermore at Wikipedia
- Pottermore Wiki
- Pottermore Insider (Archived version), the former official blog for Pottermore and source of updates and news on the Pottermore website
- Harry Potter next chapter? Wizard website tells and sells all June 23, 2011
- tweet by Melissa Anelli
- From PotterWar to Pottermore: The extraordinary 10-year evolution of Harry Potter's world; archive link, July 11, 2011
- Pottermore Child Safety Policy: "We monitor and review the contributions that your child and any other user make on Pottermore.com. We use a number of measures to assist us to effectively moderate Pottermore which include using a combination of software filters and specifically trained on-site staff who monitor activity and receive reports of any misuse or misconduct by users."
- Pottermore Child Safety Policy: "We provide all users with a username which does not contain any personal information."
- Pottermore Terms & Conditions: Access to Pottermore and creating your account(s) (Archived version): "3.6 During the process of creating a Pottermore Account, you will be asked to choose a username from a selection and to create a password in order for you to access Pottermore.com."
- A Nerd's Reaction: Did Pottermore Sort Me in the Wrong House?, Nerd Reactor. Published September 16, 2011 (Accessed September 11, 2017).
- If I'm unhappy with my Pottermore Sorting Hat quiz result, is there a way that I can re-take the test?, Quora. Accessed September 11, 2017.
- Pottermore Sorted Me in the Wrong House, BerryliJess, YouTube. Published August 30, 2011 (Accessed September 11, 2017).
- Masterpost for Pottermore Sorting Questions, Tumblr. Published April 21, 2012 (Accessed September 11, 2017).
- Pottermore Terms & Conditions: Access to Pottermore and creating your account(s) (Archived version): “3.11 Although you are permitted to have both a Pottermore Account and a Pottermore Shop Account, you are not permitted to hold more than one Pottermore Account. If we suspect that you are in breach of this provision, we reserve the right to suspend your Pottermore Account temporarily or to terminate it permanently.”
- House-Switching on Pottermore, River Taylor, Wordpress. Published November 9, 2013 (Accessed September 11, 2017).