Faculty Resources

Altmetrics Defined

Altmetrics let us measure and monitor the reach and impact of scholarship and research through online interactions. Altmetrics stands for "alternative metrics." The "alternative" part references traditional measurements of academic success such as citation counts, journal prestige (impact factor), and author H-index. Altmetrics are meant to compliment, not totally replace, these traditional measures.

Supporters of the altmetrics movement believe that doing so will give a more complete picture of how research and scholarship is used.

Simply, altmetrics are metrics beyond traditional citations. 

How Altmetrics Work

Nearly everything on the internet is tracked. What you click can be used to inform website design, serve targeted adds, or as a simple measure of popularity. Altmetrics uses this ability to track interaction with online items as a way of measuring research impact and reach.

Altmetrics can answer questions such as:

  • How many times was it downloaded?
  • Who is reading my work? (on Mendeley, bookmarking sites, etc.)
  • Was it covered by any news agencies?
  • Are other researchers commenting on it?
  • How many times was it shared? (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Which countries are looking at my research?

Benefits

  • Capture elements of societal impact
    • Altmetrics data can inform researchers of elements of the societal impact of their research. For example, altmetrics data can help researchers understand how their research is being interacted with by the public, government, policy makers, and other researchers.
  • Complement traditional metrics
    • Altmetrics provide a wider range of data, from a wider range of sources than traditional metrics. Altmetrics data is also highly nuanced and can be provided in high detail and in the context in which it originates.
  • Offer speed and discoverability
    • Altmetrics data accumulates at a faster speed compared to traditional metrics. In disciplines where citations grow slowly, or in the context of new researchers, this speed helps determine which outputs are gaining online attention.
  • Open access advantage
    • Providers like Altmetric.com and ImpactStory provide access to their API and source code. Altmetrics providers also pull their data from open sources, who give access to their APIs or raw usage data, which makes altmetrics data more easily replicable than data in proprietary databases.

Considerations

Altmetrics offer a lot of information. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when using and analyzing altmetrics data. 

  • ​Altmetrics lack a standard definition
  • Altmetrics data are not normalized
    • It is not advised to compare between sources and data sets for altmetrics, as different providers collect different kinds of data. Instead, we suggest using altmetrics to tell a story about your research.  
  • ​Almetrics are time-dependent
    • Altmetrics provide information about the use of the work, but much of this use has a lifespan - and that lifespan is unknown. For older works, there may not be much altmetrics activity, but that does not necessarily mean that the work is not heavily used!
  • ​Altmetrics have known tracking issues
    • Altmetrics work best with items that have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). PlumX is one provider that can track usage of an item with only a URL, but not all providers provide the same level of tracking for items without DOIs. 
 

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