In today’s world, everyone leaves a digital footprint – even the ever elusive Santa Claus as he treks around the world with his magical reindeer delivering presents.
And while the serious business of tracking Santa has become a tradition for the military at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad), this year’s online trackers have literally taken on a life of their own.
For example, why wait to map Santa’s trip to your house on Christmas Eve, when you can be right in the middle of the action and live in his village leading up to the big day.
That is just one of the interactive features of Google’s Santa tracker this year, as it goes up against former partner Norad, which has teamed up with Microsoft for a second time on its tracker.
Since the beginning of December, Google users have been able to join elves in unlocking a new project or game each day that reveals a new part of an interactive snowy village designed to look like Santa’s home.
Each building or monument houses games that range from slinging presents onto giant rubber duck boats driven by elves to helping the little people practice throwing presents down moving chimneys.
Also this year, the search giant has gone further to highlight its expertise by teaching children how to write code.
“The elves have a busy month ahead of them—the reindeers need training and the presents need packing,” says Sandy Russell, Google’s Santa launch strategist in a blog post.
‘Claymation’ North PoleNorad, meanwhile, has a claymation-styled North Pole village where you can jive to carols from the US Air Force band, buy Santa gear, watch movies and gather more evidence that Santa is, indeed, real.
Steve Lake, a spokesman for Microsoft, says this year’s site has many elements, such as a rotatable globe and novel games, built especially for touchscreen devices.
Norad has been tracking Santa for nearly 60 years and Major Jamie Humphries of the US Air Force tells the BBC it is always looking at ways to make the tracker fun and accessible to more users.
“This year the site offers a new daily countdown, calendar games, videos and even more holiday activities. It also offers a desktop and mobile site as well as the mobile apps available in the Windows, Android and iPhone stores,” he says.
Last year, the website received about 19.6 million unique visitors from 234 countries around the world.
Stalking techUsing different platforms to stalk Santa is a major theme in this year’s trackers with both Google and Norad offering apps, live streaming and social media feeds.
For Google, you can screen Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve on your TV using its Chromecast dongle, while Norad “Santa Cams” will stream videos on its site.
Norad’s website has been created using a responsive design, meaning visitors will get an optimised “experience” whether they are using a PC, tablet or mobile phone, says Mr Lake.
Microsoft is also using Santa’s festive journey to show off its smart virtual assistant Cortana that is now available on Windows Phone handsets. Owners of the phones can ask the assistant directly where Santa has got to and it should be able to pinpoint him.
Norad has even worked with vehicle security and communication system OnStar so customers of that service can also press the OnStar button in their vehicles to find Santa via the agency’s service.
Not to be outdone, Google users can use Voice Search on any device to ask “Where is Santa?” to see his latest status.
The tech giants have also tapped into sharing the joy over the holiday season with loved ones as a way of driving more users to its trackers.
On the Google site, users can send personalised calls and emails to family and friends from Santa himself.
The Norad site will also offer the chance to send wishes to Skype via Video Message, Mr Lake of Microsoft says.
Tracking St. NickAnd while all the cool tech features for this year’s trackers are good and well, what most kids really want to know is: how do you actually track the centuries old mythical Santa Claus around?
Norad’s explanation is more detailed.
It says it has a three-pronged strategy for tracking Santa. It draws on 47 powerful radar stations across Canada and Alaska, satellites that are usually looking for missile attacks aimed at North America and high-speed digital “SantaCams” positioned around the world to keep an eye on the delivery vehicle.
And finally, Norad’s fighter jets are used to welcome Santa to North America.
“Even though Santa flies faster than any jet fighter, Santa actually slows down for us to escort him,” says the agency.