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Freshman runs Potter Web site

Jarrett Lantz | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

After living 10 years of his life in an average family, Harry Potter had a striking moment of self-discovery: he was actually a wizard, one of the most famous wizards in the magical world. And much like the famous young boy, Notre Dame’s own Harry Potter – freshman Emerson Spartz – has been thrown from several years of home schooling into a college campus where, to many Potter fans, he is already famous.

Spartz, an 18-year-old Knott resident, runs the Internet’s definitive Harry Potter Web site, MuggleNet.com, offering visitors up-to-date Potter-related news on everything from the movies’ castings to Potter sightings in the media. For visitors unversed in the world of Hogwarts, the site includes short spoiler-free overviews of the series, as well as information and debunked rumors regarding the yet-to-be-released final installment in the series for Harry Potter fanatics.

Spartz started MuggleNet when he was only 12 years old. Halfway through seventh grade, Emerson decided to give self-taught home schooling a try.

“I figured I could always go back to school if I don’t like it, but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made,” said Spartz. “I had way too much free time on my hands, so I started [the site] a few months after I began home schooling. I never expected it to get so big.”

And big it has grown. Emerson said that MuggleNet has become a profitable business venture. MuggleNet’s extensive collection of content now draws more than 30 million visitors a month, making the Web site many times more popular than any competitors, even J.K. Rowling’s official site.

The homegrown site has exploded into a cross-cultural phenomenon with international readers from over 150 countries logging in.

The years of effort involved in creating the site didn’t just attract the attention of fans, but the site also gained prestige in the eyes of the author, publisher and movie producers.

Spartz was invited to the premieres of the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, in both London and New York. Warner Brothers, the studio handling the films, even flew him out to the set of the fourth movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where Spartz had the chance to interview the movie’s actors.

But none of that compares to Spartz’s biggest accomplishment: MuggleNet’s coverage of the sixth and most recent book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Early one morning, Spartz received a phone call from the usually private author of the Harry Potter book series.

“J.K. Rowling called in May to invite me to her house and interview her on the day of the new book’s release,” said Spartz. “I had to stay up all night to read through the entire book in time for the interview.”

In the meantime, back in the U.S., MuggleNet co-sponsored the self-proclaimed world’s largest book release party in history at a Mount Prospect, Ill. mall. Spartz said that 10 to 15 thousand Potter fans – dressed in costume of course – attended the record-breaking event.

As the site matured, it became more difficult for Spartz to do all of the work by himself. Spartz began to hire volunteers to help with every aspect of the Web site, from posting news to creating the HTML code.

All in all, over 100 unpaid volunteers run it with Spartz’s oversight.

The venture has even become a family affair.

“My 16-year-old brother does the graphics,” said Spartz. “And my parents have started to help out a lot more now that I’m in college. Even my 6-year-old brother offers me moral support and encouragement.”

But despite his love for the Harry Potter series – the fourth book is his favorite -Spartz is not planning on focusing on writing or journalism at Notre Dame. Instead, his work managing MuggleNet’s staff members and making executive decisions has convinced Spartz to major in business management.

“It’s a lot better to hire people who are smarter than you instead of trying to do everything yourself,” he said.

Spartz said that he is not planning on MuggleNet becoming his full-time job after college, nor is he thinking about starting another Web site. Instead, he plans on building his wealth investing in renewable energy sources.

In the mean time, while Spartz continues his education, Notre Dame’s own Harry Potter fans might be in luck.

Although Emerson has not confirmed anything yet, he said he is considering starting a Harry Potter club on campus.

“Maybe I’ll start a [Harry Potter] club later on,” said Spartz. “But right now I’m still trying to find my place at the University.”