Google’s Santa Tracker has actually helped improve Google itself

Every year since its launch in 2004, Google developers have made sure anyone with internet access can find out where Santa is on his toy delivery route using the Google Santa Tracker. This year, the team behind the tracker is giving users an additional surprise… and some behind-the-scenes information.

Screenshot of a Google Search using the term "Where is Santa," with the result featuring an animated Santa's Village.

Google’s animated result upon searching “Where is Santa?”
Credit: Screenshot: Google

If you type “Where is Santa?” directly into the Google search bar, you’re shown a rather adorable animated short featuring some mischievous penguins and the Claus’ secret closet. After the short ends, you’ll see a couple suggestions for mini-games or other videos. But if you scroll down below the landing page, you’ll find the full gamut of available interactions – many of which helped other Google innovations later come to be.

The Santa Tracker originally launched in Dec. 2004, and has been continuously updated by Google’s team ever since. It’s gotten big features, like new coding games and voice assistant integration, and small ones, like a mask for Santa to protect himself and others during the pandemic. And according to the official Google blog, the developers behind each update have found that working on the Santa Tracker is not only a fun holiday tradition, but useful for overall Google service development, too.

“We figured out how to do so many different things because of Santa Tracker — how to build things, how to launch things, how to make things accessible, how to improve web design, how to optimize tools,” said developer Dave Holmes in the post. “I like to say that everything I’ve learned at Google, I learned from Santa.”

Google points to the Santa Tracker as the blueprint for developments within areas like Doodles and certain apps shown at Google I/O. And each year, the developers look forward to making the experience even better for Santa trackers worldwide.

The interactive Santa’s Village page runs all throughout December, featuring 30 mini-games and animated videos for some lovely holiday cheer. On December 24, that landing page will transform into the tracking experience, where Santa’s route is shown on a world map as he makes his deliveries in real time.

For adults and kids alike, nothing says holiday spirit like a good dose of Santa Claus. So gather your milk and cookies, fire up the Santa Tracker, and get on to cyberstalking Old St. Nick.

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