A screen shot taken from version 2.4 of the Where's George? website
|Type of site||Money circulation tracker|
|Owner||Where's George? LLC|
|Created by||Hank Eskin|
Where's George? is a website that tracks the natural geographic circulation of American paper money. Its popularity has led to the establishment of a number of other currency tracking websites (of which Where's George? remains the most popular by far), sites that track other objects—such as used books—and it has been used in at least one research paper to provide statistical patterns of human travel in the United States.
The site was established in December 1998 by Hank Eskin, a database consultant in Brookline, Massachusetts. Where's George? refers to George Washington, whose portrait appears on the $1 bill. In addition to the $1 bill, $2-, $5-, $10-, $20-, $50-, and $100 denominations can be tracked. The $1 bill is by far the most popular denomination, followed by $20 bills.
To track a bill, a user enters the local ZIP Code, the serial number, and series of any US currency denomination. Users outside the US also can participate using an extensive database of unique codes assigned to non-American/Canadian locations. Once a bill is registered, the site reports the time between sightings, the distance between sightings, and any comments from the finders (called "user notes"). About 1.1 billion bills have been entered, about 0.114% of all bills in circulation.
The site does not track bills older than series 1963.
Where's George? is supported by advertising, sales of memorabilia, and by users who pay a fee for extra features. Users who pay a $7/month fee are entered into the "Friends of Where's George?" program, which allows these users to access the website free of advertisements; access certain features that others cannot, and refresh reports on the user's entered bills. Eskin states that the "Friends of Where's George?" program will always be optional and payment to use the site will always be at the individual's prerogative.
A hit is when a registered bill is re-entered into the database after its initial entry. Where's George? does not have specific goals other than tracking currency movements, but many users like to collect interesting patterns of hits, called bingos. One of the most commonly sought after bingos involves getting at least one hit in all 50 states (called "50 State Bingo"). Another common bingo, called FRB Bingo, is when a user gets hits on bills from all 12 Federal Reserve Banks.
Most bills do not receive any responses, or hits, but many bills receive two or more hits. The approximate hit rate is around 11.4%. Double- and triple-hitters are common, and bills with 4 or 5 hits are not unheard of. Almost daily, a bill receives its 6th hit. The site record is held by a $1 bill with 15 entries.
To increase the chance of having a bill reported, users (called "Georgers") may write or stamp text on the bills encouraging bill finders to visit www.wheresgeorge.com and track the bill's travels. Bills that are entered into the database, but not marked, are known as naturals/stealths/ghosts, and the opposite (a marked bill not in the database) is known as a wild. If a bill entry violates the established rules of "natural circulation" (e.g., a user has found the same bill twice, a user has had more than 20 bills wind up with another user, et al), it is flagged as an "alternate entry". If a user claims a wild, he is the submitters' "child".
The site does not encourage the defacement of U.S. Currency. In October 1999, when interviewed for the New York Times, Eskin commented on why the Secret Service has not bothered the webmaster over the defacement of US Currency: "They've got better things to do. They want to catch counterfeiters counterfeiting billions of dollars."
In April 2000, the site was investigated by the United States Secret Service, which informed Eskin that the selling of "Where's George?" rubber stamps on the web site is considered "advertising" on United States currency, which is illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 475. The site's administrators immediately ceased selling the rubber stamps and no further action against the site was taken. At least one spokesperson for the US Secret Service has pointed out in print that marking US bills, even if not defacement, is still illegal for other reasons under 18 U.S.C. § 475; however, a Secret Service spokesman in Seattle, Washington, told The Seattle Times in 2004: "Quite frankly, we wouldn't spend too much looking into this."
Where's George? and geocaching
The Where's George? site says it "prohibits trading or exchanging bills with friends, family or anyone known to the bill distributor for the purpose of re-entry". This rule is to encourage natural circulation of the currency, and to prevent multiple fake hits from happening on any bill. As a result, all bill entry notes containing the word "geocache" or "cache" are tagged as a geocache bill. The site has also dropped a separate listing of "Top 10 Geocache bills" and is cautioning that, if geocache sites are used too often, "all Geocache bills will be removed from this site".
The "George Score" is a method of rating users based on how many bills they have entered and also by how many total hits they have had. The formula is as follows:
This logarithmic formula means that the more bills a user enters and the more hits the user receives, the less the user's score increases for each entered bill or new hit. Thus, a user's score does not increase as quickly when the user has entered many bills. The #1 user, Wattsburg Gary, has an official George Score of 1,697.42 (as of September 8, 2013), and was the first user to break the 1500-George-Score mark and the one-million and two-million bills entered mark. Gary has entered over 2,195,973 bills.
Where's George? includes a community of users that interact via forums. The forums are divided into several categories, ranging from regional to new-member-help threads. Some members of the site also participate in gatherings, held in various cities around the United States. Several of these gatherings have become annual events, and can vary widely in scope and size.
Released in 2006, the documentary film by Brian Galbreath named "WheresGeorge.com" serves as an insight into the hobby, hobbyists, and their get-togethers, which are known as "gatherings". The 27-minute color DVD features various interviews with "Georgers" at a St. Louis, Missouri gathering, and with Hank Eskin (the creator of wheresgeorge.com), as well as narrated information and statistics about the site and culture. The film has aired on PBS affiliates WTTW and WSIU.
Use in research
Although Where's George? does not officially recognize the bills that travel the farthest or fastest, some have approached it as a semi-serious way to track patterns in the flow of the American currency.
Money flow displayed through Where's George was used in a 2006 research paper published by theoretical physicist Dirk Brockmann and his coworkers. The paper described statistical laws of human travel in the United States, and developed a mathematical model of the spread of infectious disease resulting from such travel. The article is in the January 26, 2006, issue of the journal Nature. Researchers found that 57% of the nearly half a million dollar bills studied traveled between 30 and 500 miles (48 and 800 km) over approximately nine months in the United States. A short clip of a Brockmann's presentation on the subject from the IdeaFestival has been posted on YouTube. More recently, "Where's George?" data have been used to attempt to predict the rapidity and pattern of projected spread of the 2009 swine flu outbreak.
- Currency bill tracking
- Twenty Bucks - movie about the fictional travels of a $20 bill
- Where's Willy? the site's Canadian counterpart
- BJS (2006-01-25). "Web game provides breakthrough in predicting spread of epidemics". Science Blog. Retrieved 2006-04-28.
- Lacitis, Erik (2004-10-04). "Where's George? Tracking the travels of paper currency". Local News (The Seattle Times Company). Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- Flaherty, Julie (1999-10-28). "Making It Easy to Find Where the Money Goes". The New York Times.
- Eskin, Hank (2008). "Bill Statistics by Denomination". George's Top 10. Where's George? LLC. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- Eskin, Hank (2008). "The 'Friends of Where's George?' Program". Tools/Fun. Where's George LLC. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- "Main Page - Where's George? Wiki".
- "Encyclopædia Georgetannica". Slowpoke. 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
- Eskin, Hank (2007). "Top 10 Bills Report - All Denominations". George's Top 10. Where's George? LLC. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- "Where's George? ® 2.4 Frequently Asked Questions". Wheresgeorge.com. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
- "§ 475. Imitating obligations or securities; advertisements". Cornell Law School. 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-29.
- Moyer, Laura (2004-09-29). "Following the money". News. The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.
- User Guidelines/Terms of Service/Rules, no. 4
- User Guidelines/Terms of Service/Rules, no. 1
- Eskin, Hank (2008). "Rules for using Where's George? with Geocaching". Where's George? 2.2. Where's George? LLC. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Eskin, Hank. "Top Users Report". Where's George. Archived from the original on 2013-08-09. Retrieved 2013-10-14. "1. Wattsburg Gary 1,684.61 2,087,265 381,519 456,557 18.28%"
- User Guidelines/Terms of Service/Rules, no. 7.
- Eskin, Hank (2008). "Unofficial Where's George?/Where's Willy? Gatherings". Where's George?/Where's Willy? Discussion. Wheres George? LLC. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
- Galbreath, Brian (2006). Wheresgeorge.com. Brian Galbreath Productions.
- Brockmann, D; L. Hufnagel and T. Geisel (2006-01-26). "The scaling laws of human travel". Nature 439 (7075): 462–465. doi:10.1038/nature04292. PMID 16437114. Retrieved 2006-04-28.
- Associated Press (2006-01-26). "Researchers' plan to track disease: follow 'Where's George' cash trail". Health and medicine (St. Petersburg Times). Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- Brockmann, Dirk. "Money Circulation Science" (Flash). IdeaFestival 2007. YouTube.com. Retrieved 2007-10-17.
- McNeil, Donald G. (May 3, 2009). "Predicting Flu With the Aid of (George) Washington". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-05.