Harry Potter is an extended tale of no, not just wizards and magic but the wisdom of the crowds in action. But that story got buried in the hoopla around the launch of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows last Saturday.
Very predictably, the traditional news media covered the event in the same way they did, say, the iPhone. Too much attention to people queuing up for the book, the parties, the ‘education’ component, but very little about the phenomenon itself.
The fact is, the Harry Potter franchise just doesn’t belong to J.K. Rowling
anymore. The books may be in 200 countries and 63 languages, but the
Potter brand goes beyond that geographic reach. It’s been open-sourced
in more ways than you could imagine; the wisdom of the Potter crowds
has always ruled when it comes to creating their own message channels,
cranking out their own Potter-esqe stories etc. Despite the fact that
this is a book, and not a digital product, the fans are all over the
social media map. There is:
* The Mugglecast podcast run by high school students, that has some 50,000 listeners a week, and features Elton John and Bono.
* The Leaky Cauldron leaks news about the books and carries a disclosure that it is in “no way affiliated with J.K. Rowling.”
* No shortage of Potter blogs, including one that suggests a Bollywood storyline for an Indian audience.
* The Harry Potter Fiction store, that’s not managed by Scholastic, the book publisher; it’s also “unofficial.”
* The Academy of Virtual Wizardry, at “Caledon Highlands” in you guessed it, Second Life!
I could go on…
So I wanted to track how the raving fans were behaving. I had a haunch that there would be an equal outpouring of passion on Saturday the 20th July around midnight not in front of the bookstores where the TV crews were waiting in hoardes, but on Wikipedia. At 11.00 pm Pacific Time the discussion (on the “comments” page of the Harry Potter Wikipedia showed signs that things were heating up. The Wikipedians had been discussing the value of locking down the Wiki, since everyone knew the book had leaked and the plot was being discussed elsewhere.
“Just wait until the official release time. Then we can put everything up in 5 minutes or so, considering the number of wikipedians interested in this.” said one editor at 11.03 pm. This was clearly a hard core editor, but also a big Potter fan. “Most people, me included, will be too busy reading the book on Saturday to check the article.” Others like him (or her) were unhappy that some editors had moved to freeze the pages until a week after the launch. Fan passion was expressed in the form of outrage that some newspapers’ reviewers had created spoilers by discussing the plot before the launch. Reading through their discussion gives you a glimpse of not just how these unpaid wikipedians work, but how fans operate late at night, doing a thankless job for what? To them this isn’t JK’s book. This is theirs.
If only other brands let their customers work their magic this way!