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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 http://www.zenbu.co.nz/about/update_histogram

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.

Bonus

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. http://www.zenbu.co.nz/search?q=address%3A%5B*+TO+*%5D+location_ll_0_coordinate%3A0 nifty.

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