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Pottermore update! Well, not really …

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ham_beanI received an email from Pottermore Insider informing me that there are new Bertie Bots Beans scattered through Pottermore. I jumped on that and spent a pleasant three minutes finding them.

Three minutes. If that.

And it occurred to me at the end of my short search why I find Pottermore delightful and wonderful and, well, a little boring.

The site bears a lot of similarity to the Canon Portkey we created for the Lexicon several years ago. They both separate the stories into individual events (“moments”) and allow users to read about the various characters, spells, settings, and so forth which apply to that event. Pottermore adds value with the addition of beautiful canon-correct artwork and original writing by Rowling. The Canon Portkey breaks the story down into much smaller segments, but of course it doesn’t have the artwork or the new canon; it’s simply a searchable canon information resource.

So why was I disappointed after my Bertie Botts search? Pottermore falls down in that seems to want to be a canon information resource without actually delivering information in a way that’s either easily accessible or that adds value. There’s no way to search, for example. There are no meta-data elements such as tags or keywords. There are no connections made to the larger canon outside of the books themselves. There’s no way to filter results by, say, location or spell or other detail. If you don’t know where information is located in the canon, you aren’t able to find it easily on Pottermore. In other words, you have to already know the answer in order to find the answer, and when you find it, you won’t learn anything you didn’t already know.

Here’s what I want instead. If I find a Bertie Bott Bean, give me a nice set of links to all the moments when the Beans are mentioned, even briefly. Let me see a list of all the flavors that have been created through the books and in other canon resources. Link me to the Chocolate Frog card for Bertie Bott himself. Link me to Honeydukes and to a list of candy in the Harry Potter universe. Let that simple search open up the richness of the Harry Potter canon.

I want to be able to make connections. I want to be able to search and sort moments by tags like “anger” or “twelve.” I want to be able to search for “Dragon Pox” and get every reference from the books as well as from interviews, from the WOMBAT tests, and the Daily Prophets. I want to be able to use Pottermore as an actual information resource, the way the Canon Portkey here on the Lexicon was designed to be used. I want to feel like I’m exploring a rich, detailed, fascinating world and along the way, seeing things in a new way.

I know that for many fans, just being able to create potions or cast spells is enough. There’s nothing wrong with that, if Pottermore is supposed to be a game site. But as a game, it also falls pretty flat. There’s no tension or “story” to the gameplay, it’s just repetition. It’s just a lot of fiddly mouse or keyboard work that essentially does nothing.

Other fans like it for the social aspect. However, the social tools on Pottermore are just as limited and useless as the gameplay. Can you chat with friends? No. Can you follow a thread or a discussion? No. All I get when I read the comments on any Pottermore screen is “Hey! I’m here!” or “I love this scene!” nonsense, not discussion.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to love Pottermore. And I do love parts of it — the canon-correct artwork, the new canon information, and Rowling’s musings for example. But overall, I can’t say that I love the site. It bores me, which is a really hard thing to admit if you’re as devoted to the Harry Potter canon as I am.

Will Pottermore improve over time? Aside from adding additional moments, I don’t see it happening. The format and limitations seem to be built into the very concept of the site, which makes it unlikely that it will be come a true information resource for fans. Even the latest additions aren’t up to the original standards. The latest updates for book six are remarkable slim — there are only about as many moments in Half-Blood Prince as there are for Philosopher’s Stone, a book half as long!

How could they improve the site to become a true resource and meeting place for fans? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Allow users to tag moments with their own tags. Then show a tag cloud for each moment and allow moments to be sorted by those tags.
  • Create story-based games, where users can quest through the moments to find new information. Finding a new Betie Botts Bean hardly qualifies.
  • Set up a system for discussion threads. And definitely moderate the posts to keep things on track.
  • Allow filtering and searching by location, creature, spell, or any other term. Behind the scenes, actually search the text of the books and present moments where that term appears in the text. You don’t have to display the actual text. We all have copies of the books. More than one copy of each, probably.
  • Allow users to go through the site more than once. According to the Terms of Service, a user is not allowed to create a new character and experience the site again. So if you’re going to follow the rules, you can’t ever explore a scene more than that initial time. Once you find everything, you’re done. You can’t do it again. So why would someone go back to the site?
  • Include canon information from outside of the books themselves, such as from the WOMBAT tests that appeared on Rowling’s old website. Some of those articles from the old Daily Prophet newsletters would be a great addition!
  • Give rewards that are actually worth receiving! Why not use the Chocolate Frog cards in the game to introduce new characters, the way the original cards worked in the video games? When we found a card in the video games, we discovered a completely new person from Wizarding history. The cards in Pottermore are those same cards, recycled.

Will any of these changes happen? I wish I could say that they will, but I don’t think so. The site seems to be intentionally designed NOT to allow that kind of capability. As a result, I will continue to love Pottermore for what it is and also yearn for more.

Do you enjoy Pottermore as much as you did the first time you visited? Do you return on a regular basis to experience the stories again? Do you find the potion-making and spell-casting enjoyable? Have you ignored the TOS and created a new user so you could experience the site more than once? Let me know in the comments.

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