Sixty years ago, a mistake in a newspaper ad led to calls to the predecessor of the North American Aerospace Defense Command from children who wanted to talk to Santa. The command center director that day, Col. Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for signs of Santa making his way south from the North Pole and gave kids updates on his location.
It’s a tradition that has evolved to the NORAD Tracks Santa website. This year’s version has added an online holiday-themed coloring book exclusive to Windows 10 and the Microsoft Edge browser, a new image carousel of cities Santa visits and Cortana integration so kids can ask out loud for Santa’s whereabouts.
Millions visit the site every December to track Santa on his global journey, and Microsoft has been the site’s partner since 2013.
“This year we’ve got Bing, Cortana, Microsoft Edge, Windows Maps coming together, and again, Microsoft is partnering with NORAD to bring children and their parents a delightful experience,” says Santanu Basu, senior product manager for Bing marketing. “They’ll discover games throughout December, and then they’ll track Santa on the 24th as he’s going around the world, and discover more about those cities he’s visiting.”
All these moving parts need a powerful host, so the Azure team stepped in to provide support and capacity on a pro-bono basis. The Azure platform provides easy handling of the exponential growth in traffic over a 48-hour period, scaling from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of visitors.
The Microsoft Edge experience is new to the site, and gives kids opportunities to color in a maze, Christmas tree, presents, a wreath, reindeer, bells, snowflakes, snowmen and a sleigh.
“Throughout the year, we can be pretty cynical. But this is one moment where we can see things again through a child’s eyes, and it gives us a fresh sense of wonder,” says Matthew Quinlan, director of product marketing for Bing. “It brings us a new perspective. Technology has brought it right into everyone’s home.”
While the biggest traffic to the site comes within the few days leading to Santa’s big journey on Dec. 24 when the Santa Tracker goes live, there’s plenty to do before then.
If you have a Windows 10 device, your kids will be able to ask Cortana, “Where is Santa?” Cortana will answer back and show visuals of Santa on his annual adventure. Android and iPhone users who have downloaded the Cortana app can do the same. Around Dec 24th Cortana will also provide an automatic update on Santa’s location.
Many people travel in December and explore new places and look up directions on the Windows 10 Maps app. Throughout the month, the Maps app will remind parents to search for Santa’s coordinates – with an autosuggest for “Where is Santa.”
“On Christmas Eve, people really explore the Santa Tracker, but this site is also about the anticipation and buildup to that,” Quinlan says. “This becomes a place where families can visit on a daily basis.”
The NORAD Tracks Santa apps for iOS, Android and Windows 10 are also available, and they have all the same features and functionality as the Web experience, including the tracking starting Christmas Eve. A new open source tool called Manifoldjs allowed NORAD to leverage their Web experience to deliver apps to all the major platforms without the need to write and maintain separate apps.
Explore Santa’s Village to watch movies about Santa and NORAD, listen to favorite holiday music like “Deck the Halls” and “Winter Wonderland,” and visit NORAD HQ, where you can find out more about NORAD and its mission. The latest site redesign also adds more dynamic imagery, such as animated elves on the home page and carols playing across the website.
Families can learn more about St. Nick exploring the library in Santa’s Village, which is packed with information about Santa, his sleigh, holiday activities and “Operation Goodwill,” which connects the site’s fans with people in need. Another section focuses on holiday traditions around the world.
When you click on any of these points on the map, it’ll provide details specific to that country and how its culture celebrates this time of year.
Once Santa’s journey starts on Dec. 24, kids will see hundreds of points on the home page globe that give them more details about many more cities.
“Last year, we put in links where you could see where Santa is, and then click through Bing to find out more,” Quinlan says. “We’ve updated the experience so it’s now got a carousel with some of the major cities so it’s easier to explore, and we’ve got these richer answers in Bing.”
Together the new features create a more immersive experience for visitors to the site, with support from Bing to educate them about the various locales and the tracker. There are also free games such as “Back to Santaland: Christmas is Coming” and “Christmas Friends” in the Arcade section of Santa’s Village.
“We focus on big cultural moments and building an experience that sparks the imagination,” Quinlan says. “The holidays, for us, are one of those great natural moments that bring people together and fuel this sense of wonder. And at no time is that more important than this time of year, with children and families coming together.”
The project also brought together a collaborative effort across the company – Bing, Microsoft Edge, Windows Maps, DX, Cortana and Azure Premier Services.
“NORAD started doing this because of a misprinted ad and 60 years later, it’s become a cultural moment,” Basu says.
Visit the NORAD Tracks Santa site now, discover your moment of wonder and see what sparks. Children can also call or Skype the hotline at 1-877-HI-NORAD, or email [email protected] to get information about Santa’s location.