Altmetrics: a brief introduction

What are altmetrics?

Altmetrics measure the mentions and uses of research. They can complement or provide an alternative to traditional bibliometrics, such as citation counts, Journal Impact Factor and h-index.

In practice, altmetrics look at how many times research is mentioned, used, saved and shared on:

    • Blogs
    • Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Reddit etc.)
    • Social bookmarking services (e.g. Mendeley, Connotea, CiteULike etc.)
    • Video services (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo etc.)
    • Other online platforms (e.g. Wikipedia, GitHub, StackOverflow etc.)

However, it is worth noting that some altmetrics services also include traditional citation counts in the data they provide.

Why should I care about altmetrics?

Altmetrics are becoming increasingly widespread. You are more likely to see them being provided for articles (and other research outputs) you find and used by academics to help show the value of their work.

Where do I get altmetrics?

You can find altmetrics embedded in databases, such as Scopus, Biomed Central, PLOS, Wiley Online Library and Taylor & Francis Online. They are usually shown when you look at the record for an article.

In Scopus they appear as part of the metrics box in the bottom-right corner of an article record, here highlighted red:

scopus-altmetrics-2

You will also see them in Open Research Online (ORO) for all items that have a DOI. They appear at the bottom of a record, again highlighted red:

ORO-altmetrics-2

The altmetrics you see in databases are often provided by third party services such as Altmetric or Plum Analytics but some databases calculate them themselves.

Altmetric provide free tools for you to access their data too.

Also of note is Impactstory, a fee-based service that allows users to create a CV-style profile and provides altmetrics on their research outputs.

How can I use altmetrics?

You can use altmetrics alongside bibliometrics in any scenario where you are trying to demonstrate the value and impact of your work, such as proposals, personal websites, job applications and CVs.

Here are some examples of researchers using altmetrics:

list of pubs-altmetrics-3

    • In their CV:

CV-altmetrics

What are the pros and cons of altmetrics?

Pros

    • Help provide a fuller picture of the use of research than citation counts alone
    • Don’t just apply to journals and books. They can be used to gather information on presentations, data sets, software and other research outputs too
    • Allow measurement of early reaction to papers because social media, for example, can provide feedback on research in less time than citations in journal articles
    • Can demonstrate broader impact because they allow you to show how people from outside of academia have engaged with your work
    • Mean you can follow the trail of who has mentioned or used your research in order to discover new papers, peers or collaborators

Cons

  • Altmetrics look at how many times research is used or mentioned but not at the context. As a result, a simple altmetric count cannot be used to demonstrate the value of research alone
    • For example, a piece could be blogged about many times due to negative feedback
    • Some people feel that articles get mentioned on social media because they relate to popular topics, not because they are examples of good research
  • Altmetrics can be abused by individuals who want to artificially increase their altmetric scores
  • Some people question the significance of the processes altmetrics measure, arguing that Twitter, for example, is too brief a place for “serious” academic conversations and that tweets are not a useful measure of the value of a paper. Indeed, many articles are behind paywalls – can people from outside academia re-tweeting articles read the full article in order to verify its content and quality?

Conclusion

Altmetrics are becoming increasingly established and can provide a useful way for researchers to show the value of their work. However, as with bibliometrics, they need to be fully understood and their limitations accepted. Altmetric themselves state:

Altmetrics don’t tell the whole story: As described above, altmetrics are a complement to, not a replacement for, things like informed peer review and citation-based metrics. Think of altmetrics as just one tool of many you’ve got in your toolbox for understanding the full impact of research.

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