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Way back during the Cold War, the North American Aerospace Defense Command began a cute Christmas tradition meant to reassure anxious kids that it was not planning to shoot Santa Claus out of the sky. NORAD’s annual Santa Tracker has since gone Web 2.0, in an ongoing partnership with Google that imports Saint Nick’s trajectory data onto Google Maps and Google Earth. Now, iPhone owners have a free app of their own, the Santa Tracker for iPhone, so they can keep tabs on the jolly fat man from the palm of their hand.
It’s an application running on Earthscape, a very cool “mirror world” technology that displays a 3-D, navigable globe, taken from satellite imagery and geotagged photos from users. (Featured on GigaOM last September.) With the Santa app, you can follow the airborne sled’s route across the world, and even better, zoom in to see photos that have been uploaded by Earthscape users at his various stops.
It was inspired, CEO Tom Churchill explained to me in an e-mail, by “the observation that we had users all over the world taking beautiful photos of their holiday festivities, and that this would be of interest to a wider audience — children, for example — if packaged the right way.” (As it happens, this demo video features Churchill’s 6-year-old daughter at the controls.) So, it’s also a clever way of showing kids how the rest of the world enjoys the holidays….or, at the very least, it’s something to keep them occupied while you wrap their presents.