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June Updates

June 9, 2014

We’ve made a few small updates to the site in recent weeks, many so subtle that you might not even notice them when editing an entry.

1. The mobile site, which loads automatically when Zenbu is accessed from a mobile browser, is now aimed more at modern smart phones rather than the simplest phones with internet capabilities as more and more people are on the former. This means dynamic maps rather than static and integration with your phones geolocation capabilities.

2. If you enter a valid phone number without formatting or spacing, we will add the standard national formatting.
e.g. 0800838383 becomes 0800 838 383

3. If you leave the country at the end the physical address we will strip it, as the country is already recorded and displayed.
e.g. “168 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand” will become “168 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, Auckland”

4. When moving the marker around the map, we now show below the map the nearest 10 entries to this new location.

All these are small things to help the people out there who are regular editors. Thank you.


Location Facets

September 30, 2013

fac·et n. One of numerous aspects, as of a subject.

We mentioned in our last post the addition of category facets, and how it would be cool to combine with location facets, and this is live on Zenbu now.

Based on the actual coordinates on the map, each entry will automatically get a number of different location groups.

In New Zealand this is Suburb, City and Region whereas in Australia it is State and Postcode.

The cool thing about all this is how it enhances both searchability and browsability  of  Zenbu data. These are the key methods for finding information.

1. Search. An entry now becomes searchable by the words in the Location Facets even if those words aren’t in the address. For example many people might drop the region when entering an address but the Location Facet will effectively add it back in.

2. Browse. We can provide a single URL for every location and every category within it. E.g. Looking for restaurants in Mission Bay? Or hairdressers in Greymouth all which can be reached by 1 or 2 clicks from other relevant entries.

So far we’ve used openly accessible sources for our Location Data.

NZ Suburbs and Cities: NZFS Localities

NZ Regions: Statistics NZ Digital Boundaries

Australia States and Postcodes: Australian Bureau of Statistics Digital Boundary Files

We’re still looking for a good source of Australian suburbs shape data. Can you help?

Search Upgrades

April 12, 2013

I’ve been working on a major upgrade of the search technology used behind Zenbu. Lucene is a giant in the open-source search software community and we’ve been using a Ruby port of Lucene called Ferret since inception. Ferret is blazing fast but hasn’t been maintained or gained some of the additional features that it’s Java cousins have. We have now made a complete transition to Solr – a popular, blazing fast open source enterprise search platform. 

On the surface you won’t notice any difference to existing functionality; we’ve spent a lot of time making sure it ‘just works’. It does give us an exciting platform on which to add new features, two of which I’ll discuss today.

Category Facets

Faceting allows you to constrain a search by a particular attribute of the results. Let’s give a simple example.

A search for ‘mexico bar’ on Zenbu NZ has 3 results. You probably wouldn’t need to refine such a small set of results further but it serves as a good example of the idea.

On the right hand side of the search page you can see the Category Facets.

Refine by Top Categories

Clicking on any of these would show you new results with only entries from that category. You might note the facet numbers add up to 4; this is because one of the entries is in two categories.

Maybe you really meant “lunch bar” rather than a drinking “bar” so clicking the Bakery category would likely help you find what you were after.

This becomes much more useful when looking at large result sets. For example you could quickly refine the 600+ results of a search for “Auckland schools” to 71 “High Schools“.

This is cool stuff and even cooler when you can combine it with a Location facet as well; something I hope to have in the near future.

Date Facets

This ones really for the data nerds like me; it gives an interesting insight into the history of Zenbu data updates and a way to see ‘old’ data.

Check out

It’s a table of data (that will populate a histogram eventually) showing the number of entries last updated split by month. This doesn’t really show you how much activity happened in a month as an entry only shows up once in the most recent month it was updated.

What it does show you and allow you to easily find is entries that haven’t been updated for a long time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, some entries just haven’t changed in 5 years, but it’s certainly a clue for chasing down potentially outdated information. This is something we’re going to be focusing on a lot more in future; maintaining the accuracy of existing entries is just as important as extending the coverage.


One dedicated Zenbu user noticed that there were some entries that did have addresses, but didn’t have a map and wanted to be able to find these to possibly put them on the map. It’s undocumented as yet but you can do this now with the following search.*+TO+*%5D+location_ll_0_coordinate%3A0 nifty.

Google Maps v3

December 10, 2012

Bit rot: noun. The gradual decay of a software program over time.

One of the wonderful things about the internet today is the availability of APIs and 3rd party services that you can bring together to create a unique service — like Zenbu. One of the problems of this system is the rapid pace of development and change which means that APIs and software are updated and/or deprecated on a regular basis. If you don’t keep up, your site will fall apart. You could think of it like the maintenance required on a house or car, except the time frames are far, far shorter.

We’ve been using the Google Maps service since day 1 at Zenbu. Google has a massive team working on this product and it is continually developing. The ‘version 2’ service that we have always used has been officially deprecated for 18 months and will be turned off in May 2013. We looked at migrating early on but it wasn’t as complete as the old version initially and then it just sat in the To Do list, until now.

We’ve finally upgraded to Google Maps v3 API which will bring some nice enhancements to the site.

The performance of v3 makes the maps load much snappier.


The Street View integrations is much tighter. “Peg Man” is shown on the map and you can drag him onto the map to activate Street View at your desired location. The entry location markers actually show up right inside Street View. Nifty!

It should be an intuitive upgrade, the user interface is almost identical. I hope you all enjoy using it as much as I do.

Zenbu in Action Nov 2012

November 1, 2012

One of the down sides to the Creative Commons Attribution license is that there is no requirement to tell us what you do with all the freely available Zenbu data. But we love hearing about it, so please do let us know! Today we heard from Dr. Stacy Rendall about how he has been using Zenbu data. In his own words…

We use Zenbu for work focused upon understanding energy issues relating to transport within urban forms. I recently completed my PhD which developed a GIS based tool to estimate the ability of people to adapt to energy supply issues, which is a function of transport infrastructure and destination availability. For that project we used Zenbu to show us destination locations.

Our research has developed a methodology for estimating the ability of households to adapt to future transport energy supply constraints. This characterisation requires a significant amount of data, including transport networks, household locations, and employment and activity facilities. The activity facilities data is most difficult to come by, as no New Zealand national body reliably collects this information in a GIS-ready format.

We found out about Zenbu through the Koordinates website. The Everything from Zenbu  dataset is the best data source available for our requirements, as it is nation-wide and has a large number of contributors, including, for example, the Ministry of Education for school destinations.

Another project we have just started is looking at is some redevelopment within Christchurch to house people displaced from the earthquakes, and we will use Zenbu data to get an idea of current activity destinations (Employment, Education, Shopping, Medical etc) as context for the project.

Dr. Stacy Rendall
Post Doctoral Research Fellow
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Canterbury

Zenbu OpenStreetMap

October 22, 2012

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is the torch bearer for Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) projects on the web. It has over 500,000 users and very usable maps in most parts of the world. Like any collaborative project the data is strong, or even amazing, in places where users have dedicated time but patchy in many other parts. Zenbu is no different in this regard.

What is the difference between Zenbu and OSM?

  1. Focus
    • OSM is primarily about the map, with POIs (Points of Information) as a helpful component of the map.
    • Zenbu is primarily about the POI, with the map as a helpful visualisation tool.
      This might seem like a minor difference but it is at the core of each product and the direction it takes.
  2. License
    • OSM has a ODBL license
    • Zenbu has a Creative Commons Attribution license
      oth licenses allow access to the data for free. The Zenbu CC by A license is significantly less restrictive in what you can do with it as there is no ‘share-alike’ clause. One outcome of this is that Zenbu data can be pushed into OSM but OSM data can not be pulled into Zenbu.
  3. Size
    OSM has a significantly larger user base and coverage internationally. In New Zealand Zenbu has a far more authoritative set of POI information.

I’d like to see the Open Street Map of New Zealand be as good as it can. We’re working to enable systems for people to easily re-purpose Zenbu content onto OSM. Stage 1 of this is complete now with a mapping of the Zenbu Categories to OSM categories. There are a few more steps to go to make this more accessible,

There is a lot of work going on at the moment to build tools to import NZ government spatial data, from Land Information NZ, into OSM.!forum/nzopengis. We’ve been in touch with the team at Koordinates who are working on this and hope to have more to report soon.


Major Server Failure Sep 7 – Complete Recovery

September 7, 2012

At 1.35pm on Fri Sep 7, we suffered a major server failure at our primary data centre. The secondary server picked up the load and there was little down time but the database backup had not happened for 24 hours.

At the moment we are missing all entries and users made or updated from approximately 4.30am on Sep 6 to 1.30pm on Sep 7.

We sincerely apologise if the changes you made were affected. We hope to be able to restore them when the affected machine is investigated.

UPDATE: All data was recovered: