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Google Challenges NORAD In Tracking Santa, Launches Google Santa Tracker
Google has decided to take on the decades-old Santa tracking service that NORAD offers with its own “Google Santa Tracker.” It comes in the wake NORAD booting Google out as a partner in favor of Microsoft.
NOTE: If you’re looking for the latest information on Santa tracking for the current year, see our Your Guide To Santa Trackers page.
How NORAD Began Tracking Santa Since 1955
First some history, then what Google has in store. When I was a kid (I said history, right?) back in the 1970s, I remember listening to the radio to get NORAD updates about where Santa’s location was. NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canadian organization that tracks missile launches and objects in space.
NORAD also tracks Santa. It’s been doing so since 1955, when the wrong number was printed in a Sears newspaper ad inviting people to call for St. Nick’s location. NORAD’s number was printed by mistake, and NORAD stepped up to the challenge. You can read more about that story here.
Over the years, NORAD adapted to the web. The NORAD Tracks Santa web site has been offering web-based tracking since 2004, to my understanding. I’ve personally been tracking that site — and Santa tracking in general — since 2005.
NORAD & Google Partner In 2007
In 2007, there was a major development. Google became an official NORAD Tracks Santa partner. Over the years, Google and NORAD grew closer together with Santa tracking, to the degree that Google was seeming to be almost as synonymous with Santa tracking as NORAD.
2012: NORAD Partners With Microsoft & Google Launches Own Service
This year, I waited for the usual announcement from Google about working again with NORAD. It never came. Instead, last week, news emerged that Microsoft was working with NORAD for the first time. Google was left out in the cold. Or so it seemed.
Today, Google unveiled its own Google Santa Tracker service:
Right now, the site features a countdown clock, which will change to ways to follow Father Christmas on Google Maps & Google Earth through the site beginning 2am PT on Christmas Eve. The site also provide links to track him via:
- Google Santa Tracker Android app
- Google Santa Tracker for Google Chrome
- Google Santa Tracker on Google+
- Google Maps on Facebook
- Google Maps on Twitter
The site also offers games and animations you can play, if you click on items in the Santa’s Village at the bottom of the screen:
Unfortunately, it’s not clear exactly where to click or what different things do, and if you do click on something, it can be slow to load the mini-games.
Record A Call From Santa
The village also provide access to a service that lets Santa send a holiday message (Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also options along with Christmas, as well as “Hanging Out” and “The Holidays,” among others).
It takes forever to get through all the questions, which you only get to after saying you agree to the legal terms and providing your age:
When you’re done, an MP3 is produced. It’s cute, and you can send it in various ways, including by phone or email.
Google shares more about its new Santa tracker in a blog post today, including saying:
While we’ve been tracking Santa since 2004 with Google Earth, this year a team of dedicated Google Maps engineers built a new route algorithm to chart Santa’s journey around the world on Christmas Eve.
Did Google Have To Compete With NORAD?
Knowing the history of Google’s involvement with NORAD, I guess the post rubbed me the wrong way. I know Google started working with NORAD at least informally in 2006 (see here and here). Maybe it was doing its own thing in a limited fashion back to 2004. But mentioning that date really felt like Google was trying to make out as if it has been tracking Santa on its own for nearly a decade.
The reality is that most of Google’s tracking has been done in conjunction with NORAD. Now that it’s no longer along for that ride, I guess I personally wish it hadn’t felt like it needed to start competing with NORAD. At the very least, I wish NORAD had at least been acknowledged by Google.
Well, it takes a lot to get Macy’s to mention Gimbels, too. Like the real Santa Claus to come along.
NORAD & Google Stay Together With YouTube Videos
There remains at least one area that Google and NORAD continue to stay together. That’s through the NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel.
NORAD will continue to post high-speed video that it captures of Santa flying around the world on Christmas Eve to Google-owned YouTube. Google doesn’t appear to be planning its own videos for the Google Santa Tracker.
For more about the NORAD Tracks Santa site, see my preview post below. And return on Christmas Eve, when I’ll be recapping how both the NORAD and Google sites are running. Maybe Apple will have an Apple Maps-based tracker live by then.