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Research Impact

What are Altmetrics?

altmetrics is the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing, and informing scholarship. (altmetrics.org)

Altmetrics, short for "alternative metrics" are a variety of alternative tools to measure research impact. These tools have been created to address a variety of criticisms of traditional metrics. These tools account for a broader range of scholarship, the prevalence of web-based scholarship, such as online blogs, and the authority of readers. Read more about altmetrics in Altmetrics: A Manifesto.

Why Altmetrics?

The Problem With Traditional Metrics

  • They are slow. It can take years for a paper to be cited in another publication, so citation counts can be several years behind. Traditional metrics take time to mature and provide data in a world where most things are available instantly.
  • They do not account for age. Citation indices will grow as an author matures. Therefore, younger authors will have a lower quantifiable impact. It can be difficult for early career researchers to establish their impact using traditional metrics.
  • Authors are the ultimate authority. Traditional metrics only account for the opinion of other authors, but a work can still have impact if others are reading it or discussing it outside of scholarship.
  • They are skewed toward sciences. Traditional metrics reflect the publication patterns of the sciences. For instance, they do not weight co-authorship or solo authorship. Additionally, in the social sciences, arts, and humanities, book and book chapter publication is much more popular, which is often not accounted for in traditional citation analysis. Scientists also tend to use a higher number of citations in their work, so they will have higher citation counts.
  • English-language publications are too prominent.  Many tools that calculate citation impact metrics neglect to include publications in other languages. However, scholars who publish in languages other than English are still having an impact on the scholarly discourse in their field and the world around them.
  • They do not account for context.  Traditional metrics take citations at face value, and do not account for why an article is cited. For instance, an article could be heavily cited because many authors disagree with it, and this article would still have a high citation index.

The Benefits of Altmetrics

Altmetrics attempt to mitigate the problems with traditional metrics by using different methods to evaluate research impact. Every tool has specific benefits, but in general, altmetrics are:

  • Available immediately. Certain altmetrics, like an article's download counts, or tweet counts, can be available immediately.
  • Diverse in content. Altmetrics attempt to account for other forms of scholarship, like scholarly blogs, tweets, datasets, and other forms of self-publishing. 
  • Diverse in methods. Altmetrics are constantly evolving, and new altmetric tools are being created every day.
  • Not just citations. Altmetrics account for the opinions of readers as well as authors by using statistics such as download counts.

Article Level Metrics

Altmetrics can be applied to different types of research output such as articles, blog posts, nanopublications, and datasets.  Some journal publishers have adopted altmetrics to assess the impact of individual articles.  For example, the Public Library of Science has implemented article-level metrics (ALM) to gauge the impact of its journal articles.  As noted in the SPARC primer, ALM has these advantages over journal-based metrics:

  • It takes into account both scholarly visibility and social visibility of published research. 
  • Its data points cover both immediacy and long-term diffusion of an article's impact. 
  • Its data points are comprised of both traditional and emerging data sources. 
  • It is not a proprietary product and may be free to use, modify, and distribute. 

Nevertheless, ALM has its own share of limitations.  Just like journal-based metrics, it is prone to manipulation.  Moreover, it is unable "to make distinctions of quality and intent within the collected feedback a scholarly output receives."  

Free Altmetrics Tools

There are countless free altmetrics tools available on the web.

  • ImpactStory is an open-source tool that provides researchers with a number of ways to measure both their traditional and alternative research outputs
  • Scholarometer is a browser extension to Google Scholar that can overlay a number of social or discipline-specific filters on search results
  • Mendeley is a reference manager and academic social networking tool. Mendeley keeps readership statistics and download counts for articles.

You can also view the Public Library of Science's Altmetrics Collection for more information on altmetrics tools.