Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tracing Pottermore

What happens when an actor desiring creative control tries to own the open spaces of participatory culture?

That is the research question I have written for Tracing Digital Cultures with Dr. Liza Potts. Dr. Potts told us as we started this class that we needed to find an event to track as it unfolded through social media. Well, since this was June 22nd and anyone who is even a remote Harry Potter fan knew what was happening on June 23rd, I chose the unveiling of Pottermore. I started out wanting to know how JK Rowling was going to enter into the world of participatory culture, a world she had clearly up to this point left to others such as her fan sites.

What happened has become much more intriguing. Pottermore itself is just not participatory. The fans were hoping the site would be a place where they could participate, but it isn't. Not yet anyway, and how much participation will ultimately be available is still a mystery.

So what did the fans do? They created a space where they COULD participate: #pottermore. This hashtag stream has been flying every day from before the announcement to now. But another intriguing thing has happened: the conversation has moved to be more about the final movie release than Pottermore because ... well ... nothing is happening on Pottermore.

Now comes the last intriguing piece that brings me to the formulation of my research question. The Pottermore staff created a Twitter account @Pottermore, validated by none other than JK Rowling herself (Side interesting thing: they did not validate themselves through Twitter. Clearly JK Rowling's approval is enough.). @Pottermore has used #pottermore for a grand total of three times -- to build excitement for the opening of Pottermore. Ever since opening day, @Pottermore has tweeted without any hashtag at all, their 184,762+ followers clearly making them feel like they got enough out of dabbling in participatory culture so they can now return to finding users rather than working with participants. #Pottermore is still an incredibly active place for Potter fans, but if they want anything from @Pottermore, they have to head to an online journal (it does not allow commenting, so blog is not the right term) where they can read information and see still pictures of Pottermore under construction.

So, as I have mapped all of this out using actor-network theory, I have come to an interesting answer to my question. What happens when an actor desiring creative control tries to own the open spaces of participatory culture? Yes, maybe Pottermore, its staff, and even JK Rowling (although she has made it pretty clear that she won't) will eventually participate in participatory culture. But for now, they seem to be using participatory culture to change eager participants into simple users.