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POTTER PREDICTIONS, CHAT ALL OVER WEB WIZARDRY HARRY SITES ABOUND


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Date published: 4/15/2007

BY HILLEL ITALIE

AP National Writer

NEW YORK--Emerson Spartz remembers the good old days. It was fall 1999, Spartz was 12 and he decided to create a Web site about a hot new series of fantasy books.

The Harry Potter craze was just beginning.

"The sites were very primitive, especially compared to modern Harry Potter sites. They were amateurishly done," says Spartz, founder of mugglenet.com, one of the leading Potter sites. "The biggest Web sites were updated a couple times a week at most, and other than message boards, there was no interactivity between fans."

Like J.K. Rowling herself, Potter fan sites didn't start out to make history. They popped up spontaneously, operated on the cheap by "teenage kids out of their basements," Spartz recalls.

It's been 10 years since readers met the boy wizard in Rowling's first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

More than 300 million copies later, the Potter series is set to end July 21 when Scholastic Inc. releases the seventh adventure, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The story of Potter has all along been a story of its fans. Like everything else about Potter, fan sites are in a special class for their size and influence.

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The Potter sites have long advanced from the slow pace, simple texts and dull backgrounds of the early years, and now have all the latest accessories: blogs, podcasts, audio and video. They no longer just comment on the news, but participate. Rowling has praised the sites by name, granted them rare interviews, even used one site, the Harry Potter Lexicon, to check facts.

Warner Bros., which once tried to shut down many of the fan sites because of copyright concerns, has invited Spartz and others to the sets of Potter films and premieres, valuing their expertise and, of course, their access to so many fans.

"When we have brought representatives from some of the key fan sites and showed them the details for the film sets, even if some of them were disappointed that we had left out certain elements from the books, they respected what we were trying to do," says Diane Nelson, Warner Bros.' executive vice president for global brand management.

"We're not naive enough to think we're going to avoid criticism, but bringing the fan sites into the process is what we feel is really important."


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