Every year, my youngest son waits for Christmas Eve with almost as much excitement as he waits for Christmas Day. His favorite activity? Watching the Santa Tracker application from Google. Seriously. He can watch it for hours, reading about where he is, talking about time zones, looking up when it will be dark in which countries, and, finally, going to bed hastily as Santa nears the eastern seaboard. This year will be no different.
The System76 Edubook he's been testing for me is sitting on the shelf in his bunk bed, charged and suspended, with Firefox already pointed to www.noradsanta.org. Here's a quick clip from the NORAD commander about their Santa tracking:
...in 2004, shortly after Keyhole was acquired by Google, we followed Santa in the "Keyhole Earth Viewer" — Google Earth's original name — and we called it the "Keyhole Santa Radar." The audience was relatively small since Keyhole was still a for-pay service at that point, and we hosted everything on a single machine shared with the Keyhole Community BBS server. We probably should have had three separate servers to host the Santa tracker — that first year, we had only a portion of a single machine. That night, about 25,000 people kept tabs on Santa and, needless to say, wreaked some havoc on our servers!
Over the years, it actually became a testbed for Google's site reliability engineers and in 2007, Google officially partnered with NORAD to carry on their tradition of providing information about Santa's location to young people around the world. That partnership has a great backstory of its own.
...on Christmas Eve in 1955...a Sears Roebuck & Co. store in Colorado Springs advertised a special hotline number for kids to call Santa. What the company didn't know at the time was that they had inadvertently misprinted the telephone number. Instead of Santa's workshop, the phone number put kids through to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)...Worse, it wasn't just any number at NORAD: it was the commander-in-chief's operations hotline. In the spirit of the season, Colonel Harry Shoup, the director of operations at the time, had his staff check radar data for any indication of a sleigh making its way south from the North Pole. They found that indeed there were signs of Santa, and merrily gave the children who called an update on his location. Thus, a tradition was born, and NORAD has continued to help children track Santa on Christmas Eve ever since.
It just so happens that Colonel Shoup is my grandfather, which is why I'm so excited that, 52 years later, Google is joining the effort.
That 2007 post was from Carrie Farrell who is now the Principal of Google.org Partnerships (a division of Google's philanthropic arm).
This year, coinciding with the release of the revamped mobile Google Earth and Google Maps, you can track Santa on many smartphones (just go to m.noradsanta.org or search for "Santa NORAD" on either mobile or desktop versions of Google Maps. According to the Google Mobile Blog, Santa takes off at 3:00am Eastern time, so most people in North and South America (my son included) will be able to begin tracking him as soon as they wake up in the morning.