It’s official. NORAD Tracks Santa, the annual Santa tracking effort run by the joint US-Canadian air defense organization, will be using Microsoft’s Bing for the second year to map Santa’s route. But will Google be mapping Santa on a different route, as happened when it ran its own breakaway tracking service last year? There’s hope of perhaps a “Miracle On 34th Street” moment that may prevent this.
No One Tells Santa Where To Fly
Let’s be clear about one thing. Santa Claus flies wherever Santa wants to fly. NORAD doesn’t control his route. Google doesn’t control it. No one but Santa does. All the trackers can do is eagerly watch to see where he actually goes, for all the children of the world.
NORAD’s Santa Tracking History
No one has been tracking Santa regularly longer than NORAD. That’s the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint US-Canadian operation that watches the skies for threats. Santa’s no threat, of course. But if you want to know where a fast moving object is flying around, NORAD is the group well-positioned to say.
That’s what happened back in 1955. An ad for a local Sears store invited children to call for an update on Santa’s progress. A misprint meant people ended up calling NORAD’s predecessor, CONAD. Rather than disappoint the kids who were calling, the military turned its high-tech radar technology to spot Father Christmas in the skies.
Last Year, Google Launches Its Own Tracker
NORAD’s tracking has been a tradition ever since. As a kid, I tuned into the radio for updates. As a parent, I’ve helped my kids get updates from NORAD through the web. And on the web, Google was the long-time mapping partner for NORAD — until last year.
For 2012, Bing became the NORAD Santa tracking partner. But Google, which clearly enjoyed tracking Jolly St. Nick, decided to run its own Google Santa Tracker. It was the first major alternative to NORAD in recent memory. Most alternative Santa trackers I’ve monitored over the years have given up, since NORAD has done the job so well and is so well known.
The result? Plenty of kids kept up with Santa with both services. But, there was some minor concerns and confusion over how Santa could be in two different places at the same time.
Yes, Virginia, Santa Can Be In Two Places At Once
Now, anyone who understands both Santa and the different tracking technologies used by NORAD and Google knows there’s a reasonable explanation for all this, as my post last year explained:
Still, different routes might be confusing to the wee ones, who aren’t up on location-tracking technology that uses satellites versus that which uses wifi hotspots.
NORAD Back With Bing
NORAD is back with Bing again, as it announced in a press release yesterday:
Starting at 12:01 a.m. MST on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight through the Bing maps and Cesium technology to track Santa with NORAD in 2D and 3D. Then, at 4 a.m. MST (6 a.m. EST), trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa’s whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Google also seems likely to repeat its own Google Santa Tracker, as the home page from last year still has a “visit us again” message up.
Will Google Reflect A Similar Track?
So, will there be a repeat of two routes? Maybe, and as I said, the different tracking technologies plus Santa’s ability to move so quickly can cause that. Still, there might be some unofficial sharing that may help.
Earlier this month, Bing’s general manager Stefan Weitz tweeted this:
Best meeting of week: concall with @google to coordinate Santa Tracking Apps to avoid crushing kids’ dreams… thanks @sjttocs !
— Stefan Weitz (@stefanweitz) November 7, 2013
In the tweet, he talks about having the best meeting of his week, a conference call with Google to coordinate Santa tracking and “avoid crushing kids’ dreams,” along with a shoutout to Scott Schwaitzberg, of Google’s non-profit foundation, Google.org.
When I asked Bing, it had nothing to add to this. An email to Google came back with no comment about the tweet.
Stacey Knott, a NORAD Tracks Santa spokesperson, was around yesterday but said NORAD couldn’t comment much beyond stressing that “Santa’s route is up to Santa,” and that NORAD was looking forward to tracking him again with its technology this year.
Reporting Similar Sightings At The Same Time?
Maybe we’ll see some unofficial cooperation so that the sightings at both trackers are more similar. Again, that’s not because the tracking sites can control Santa’s path — they can’t. Only Santa can do that. But they can choose which sightings to post of the hundreds, if not thousands, that happen every second at given points around the globe.
Personally, I’d welcome that. It was easier when there was only one major tracker, so that children were less likely to get confused. Since Google seems dedicated to continuing on its own for another year, whatever it can do in order to report similar sighting to NORAD would be great. Kids have plenty else to worry about on Christmas Eve. Will he like the milk? Will the gluten-free cookies be well received? Can the roof hold the weight of those reindeer once again?
NORAD says it has an entirely new site set to go live on December 1, so be sure to visit NORAD Tracks Santa then. I’ll have a look at the site when it goes live. I’ll also be back here on Christmas Eve with my annual look at how both trackers, apps and any alternatives work.