Up, up and – at last – away: Pottermore takes off

In just one day, Harry Potter's new website has already had 22 million hits. By Harriet Walker
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The Independent Online

It's what weeping children and sullen teens have been waiting for since author JK Rowling unveiled the project in June: the official Harry Potter website, Pottermore.com, came online yesterday, to the relief of a select group of fans among those left broken-hearted by the conclusion of the film franchise this summer.

More than a million early-doors "beta" accounts were released to fans in more than 238 countries. We waited for more than two hours to receive secret log-in information as the launch was delayed until 4pm.

There has been drama off as well as on the site, with hi-tech conmen selling fraudulent accounts on eBay for as much as £100. So far, there have been more than 22 million views of the home page, which contains only a registration form and welcome blurb.

Rowling and her developers claim the site is designed for users of all ages, and it is free to join to anyone when it officially opens in October. Once they enter, they can participate in challenges, collect trinkets, and generally immerse themselves in the fictional realm that has captivated generations since the first of the seven books was published in 1997.

The site is supposed to be a sort of add-on rather than a standalone entity, and it is laid out in a way that prioritises reading the books rather than just logging on. Unveiling the site in June, Rowling said: "I generated much more material than ever appeared in the books. I thought, 'Who on earth would want to know the significance of all the different wand woods?' Now you can go and see. It's such a rich experience to do it this way."

Essentially an interactive theatre set, the site takes visitors through the story scene by scene, allowing them to click on frames and features to learn more. Soon I find myself reading a comment from Rowling herself on exactly why she named Harry's childhood home 4 Privet Drive.

"I have never been fond of the number four," she explains in a sidebar that unfurls like parchment and has her signature at the bottom, "which has always struck me as a rather hard and unforgiving number."

It's a sort of interactive York Notes, should Potter books ever find themselves on the syllabus, and one can't help wondering how it would be to navigate, say, The Waste Land in this format, with Eliot's spidery notes laid out alongside a barren landscape of stony rubbish and red rock.

Within five minutes of entering the site, I have received four friendship requests from other fans – all of whom have given themselves rather more adventurous names than mine (my email address), names that plumb the depths of Pottermania, referencing obscure mythical creatures and rarefied spells from Rowling's universe.

After only a few seconds, an entire community has blossomed, with message boards detailing every minute reaction to each scene and revelation. "This is all so wonderful!" declares one. "I'm shaking right now," says another. I can only presume these are children since, despite the catch-all age range, the visuals and facts are very firmly of the sort enjoyed only by 2ft-tall pedants.

Judging by its first showing, Pottermore will not change the world; it's a brain-dead addition for those with no imagination. It will not bring back that feeling of excitement before each of the books was released – but it might just add an extra layer to reading, encourage a few to explore a little further. It's the modern equivalent of all those extraneous Hobbit maps and Elfin dictionaries that a groaning Tolkien found himself under pressure to produce. And it's comforting somehow to know that a modern, mass-multimedia movement such as this could have started on a bookshelf – which would be a far better place to look for entertainment and inspiration.