Where’s Willy

Where’s Willy

A couple months ago I came across a bill marked with the website www.WheresWilly.com so I looked into it. I discovered the site was set up by the same guy that set up www.WheresGeorge.com. Where’s George is for American bills and Willy for Canadian.

The idea is you that you put a little note of the bills you have in your wallet which includes the website address, put the serial number and your postal code into the website, and then spend the bill like you would normally. In time, someone will find your marked bill and return to the site, input the serial number and their postal code and they can find out where the bills been beforehand. The site does not require registration, but if you do register (it uses your email as your ID), you can log back in to see what has become of the bills you’ve entered, and can configure it to send you an email when one of your bills shows back up again. It’s attracted enough note that CBC has a article on it.

I registered a couple months ago and have had a lot of fun. I do a lot of spending using a credit card, and so don’t go through as much cash as I might otherwise, but I have managed to enter 70-odd bills and have had perhaps ten reappear - some as close to home as on the street downtown, and some in more excited locals like a casino 500+km away.

A useful utility I found is called “WillyMap“. You pull the logs of your hits off the Where’s Willy website and this utility will generate a map of where your bills have turned up. Very cool!

Interestingly, a group of researchers from the University of California were intrigued by the data available through Where’s George, stating that “Like viruses, money is transported by people from place to place” and used it to develop a statistical model for how a epidemic might travel through the United States. You can read a review on Science Blog or if you have a copy of Nature, you can find the whole paper there.

In case you’re wondering “George” refers to George Washington, who appears on the American $1 bill and “Willy” refers to Wilfrid Laurier, who appeared on the old Canadian $5 bills.

Check it out for yourself at www.WheresWilly.com for my Canadian readers and at www.WheresGeorge.com for my American friends.

picture via by Snuggle Up & Read on Flickr

Update (2023-07-12): So Where’s Willy is still a thing, although I haven’t used it in some time because the current polymer bills aren’t easy to mark with the web address. I updated the link to the CBC article with a capture from the Internet Archive’s Wayback machine.

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