It was back in June when YouTube started testing geo video search – integrating Google Maps with YouTube videos tagged with a physical location. Up to now it was only evident as either an advanced search feature, or as a standard keyword search. Now, typing in a location-based search may turn up related, location-based videos on the bottom of the same page. However our testing shows that this can be a buggy feature, as YouTube is more apt to recognize and properly map major cities than smaller ones.

Here’s how the new feature works: In the “Videos near ” results box at the bottom of the page, clicking the map icon at the left takes people to a new search results page, which is supposed to map the same location.

Location search test #1: Large metropolitan city

In a default or simple search, YouTube will be apt to recognize a major city location (example: “Chicago”) and present a proper map icon in the bottom of the page (titled “Videos near Chicago“). Clicking on the icon will take people to a new page with a large Google Map showing a location marketer and word “Chicago” right in the location search field, which appears next to the keyword field.

Clicking on the map icon above (the first icon on the left) will take you to a new page on YouTube with a large map at the very top, with a marker in the exact map location, and the “Location” field with the auto-entry for “Chicago”. (It recognizes Chicago as a location and thus doesn’t default it to the “Keywords” field.)

Location Search Test #2: Small backwater town

However, doing the same test for a smaller city brings back considerably less accurate results. For example, I first typed into the default search box “carpentersville illinois” – my former hometown. (I find that entering a smaller city also requires entering the state as well, if I want to get back any location-based video results.

The map icon next to the results appears with a cross through it, which means it fails to recognize the location. (This is somewhat ironic since it does acknowledge it to be an actual location, but apparent one that is not registering with YouTube/Google Maps.) When I click on the icon, I don’t wind up in Carpentersville; instead it takes me to the center of the state.

I also tried this same search with a comma between the city and the state – “carpentersville, illinois” – in a default search, and then clicked on the map icon, which turned up a stranger result in the Keywords and Location text fields. (Same inaccurate marker location, too.)

I gave this one last try with a neighboring city – Elgin, Illinois – and got an even wackier result. Map marketer put me all the way in the United Kingdom. Not exactly near Midwest U.S.A. But at least I learned there’s a city named Elgin in the UK, which would have been helpful if I was looking for a history lesson, instead of geographical assistance.

Filtering features still impressive

When YouTube does manage to get the location right, its very handy to be able to further filter a video search by keywords directly in the same page after clicking on the search box. And for advanced searchers, the ability to do further filtering – such as by specific content categories, duration, time uploaded and standard results sorting (relevance, view count, rating), is a great asset to have readily available.

Final review – Check the map icon for proper location

Typical users of YouTube are probably going to discover this new feature by accident, and not quite know what to make of it. (Which is probably why YouTube decided to put it all the way down at the bottom for just some location searches, a sign of safer public testing and leave opportunity for mass confusion.) Clearly this is a feature that’s still in the testing and data-gathering mode, and YouTube will likely treat it like it does with all of its other on-the-page tests: Make it more prominently if used often enough and properly enough, or discard it altogether. For experienced users,  there is always the advanced search area with all of these features and more. But introducing location-based videos to a mass audience is a good idea, and with some improvements should be another strong asset to the most popular video site available.