Ah, yes, the wonderful Christmas tradition of watching Santa's travels around the world using a missile defense system.
It's actually a very sweet story. "The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number," explains the NORAD Santa website. "Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born."
Shoup must have had a hell of a sense of humor for a military man during the Cold War. The call actually came in on the red phone.
CONAD was replaced by NORAD in 1958, and the tradition continued, each year using state-of-the-art technology to track Santa. Currently, the organization said it uses four high-tech systems to track Santa – radar, satellites (using the infrared signature from Rudolph's nose), Santa Cams, and fighter jets.
Google got involved in 2004, before Keyhole Systems was even part of Google, and has since used Google Earth and Sketchup to help track Santa. In 2005, Google devoted 20 machines to the project, which let 250,000 people track Santa; in 2006, more than a million people tracked Santa.
In 2007, Google became an official "Santa tracking partner' and hosted the website, as well as adding YouTube videos, for several million people.
New this year is a Twitter feed -- @noradsanta -- geolocated photos, and support for Google Maps on mobile phones, as well as the traditional website (from which you can also download a Google Earth application that lets you watch him in real time and 3D).