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: For the latest news on 2012 Santa tracking, see our post: Where’s Santa Claus? The 2012 Santa Tracker List, From NORAD To Google, From The Web To Apps

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.

Moreover, other Santa tracking services that I’d noted over the years (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) disappeared. The NORAD-Google service grew so large and dependable that others seemed to give up.

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:

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.

NOTE: For the latest news on 2012 Santa tracking, see our post: Where’s Santa Claus? The 2012 Santa Tracker List, From NORAD To Google, From The Web To Apps

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Google: Santa Tracker | Search Engines: Santa Tracker | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • daveintheuk

    This just shows how desperate and jealous Google is when they don’t get their own way.


  • TmWe

    Actually I think this is quite sad.

  • fjpoblam

    Poor Google. Sounds like a spoiled brat. I wonder if Santa will skip Larry’s chimney.

  • Jill Whalen

    The best part will be when the competing services show Santa in different places!Explain that one to the kids…bwahahahaha

    Bah humbug.

  • tedives

    Doesn’t recording a call for a guy who obviously uses kidnapped children (ok, he calls them elves but come on, there’s no such thing) as cheap offshore slave labor so he can dump toys on the market below cost, who breaks and enters into people’s homes, and maintains a system of “total information awareness” files on everyone as to whether they’ve been naughty or nice, count as “being evil”?

    What kind of secret deal do they have – I’ll bet Santa doesn’t see “(not provided)” in any of his reports!

  • Gay Apparel

    Probably, since he’s a Jew and all

  • daveintheuk

    and woooosh – faster than a speeding sleigh! Google’s own Santa Tracker is straight in at number 3 in the organic results on Google for “santa tracker” – although it isn’t showing up anywhere on other search engines (or interestingly for searches like “track santa”, or even “track santa google”)….

    Presumably we’ll be seeing a massive “knowledge” unit for this soon just to make sure Google take as much of the search traffic for themselves – maybe time for Norad and Santa to dig deep and get some AdWords!

  • Dave Crowder

    This is really sad is just another indicator of how low Google will stoop to have the lime light. I am glad I have dumped Google for anything. Will not knowingly use them

  • Dave Crowder

    P.S, you ( the writer) just gave google a huge lift and just busted Bing. Are you perhaps anti-MSFT underneath all? This is a really good way to promote google’s efforts over THE TRADITIONAL NORAD program. Jerk!

  • daveintheuk

    haha don’t worry, Google will probably just scrape the data from the Norad one and call it “Knowledge” ;-)

  • jo

    Well, when anybody writes about somebody is losing relevance then the reality is the opposite. They are more relevant than before. Things that are loosing their relevance just dies.

  • pdxuser

    It’s #2 on Bing. This is a no conspiracy theory zone. Google is a big and popular website. Its services, when properly ranked, will rank highly.

  • daveintheuk

    Well, it is 4th for me on Bing. 1st on Google now.

    I would have thought the Norad one would deserve to be number one still… it has a good history is well known and… well was produced with a good motive rather than just greed and shafting a former “partner”.

  • pdxuser

    It’s #1 for me on Bing now and still #3 on Google, using private browsing with no cookies.

  • daveintheuk

    Looks like Google are fixing the autocomplete’s in their own favour too – “follow santa”: first suggestion “…on google earth 2012″ second suggestion “with norad”.

    It seems VERY unlikely that more people are searching for the first phrase than the second.

    Same for “track santa 2012″ – first suggestion is “google earth” second “norad”.

    If they’re doing it to try and divert kiddies to their free service out of jealousy and spite, you can be damn sure they are doing it with commercial queries.

  • Sage Lewis

    They are reporting Santa in two totally different locations at the same time. This is concerning. Who’s lying? Who’s covering what up? Is Santa maybe a spy? What if Norad has been lying to us about Santa’s exact location all along. My complete coverage is here:

  • joe griffin

    Danny my boy, you made drudge or fox, one of them sent me here. Merry Christmas from Joe Sr.

  • Alexis Meesner

    And these are the Tracking results!

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