Observational research and digital social media:
Route 66 and Amboy California
Place-based research is an important component of understanding physical contexts. The range of information needed to understand places, from site measurements and data, to social data and cultural needs, requires a range of sources. Observational research methods are well established. Local information is essential - site notations, photographs, oral information gathered through conversation and interviews, and information gathered from local media can give a broad range of information and provide a clear and accurate picture of a place. With an increasing amount of data and base information available on the World Wide Web, information from official and reputable sources as well as from unvetted sources is useful for place-based research. Information for the research presented here comes from a range of sources - from government map and data websites to social media sources such as blogs and photo storage sites. The increased use of social media web sites, archiving web sites, and a range of sources reflects a trend for information gathering that encourages many voices rather than one official source, a trend that works well in design research. Discussed here is an attempt to understand the strengths and limitations of the range of digital information sources for observational research that supports design inquiry. Through the work carried out over the past two years that includes using social media for observational research, we have come to realize that design professions can take a lead in understanding the use of social media as an information source. The use of social media is becoming inevitable. Understanding how to engage it is essential.