What are altmetrics?

Traditionally the impact of research and researchers has been measured through bibliometrics. The best-known results of these are the journal impact factor and the h-factor. Both of them are arrived at through citation analysis and are heavily dependent on the traditional scholarly publication model. This model has been in flux for some time now, with the ever-growing influence of the internet and digital publishing. In addition to the altered publishing landscape, the environment of scholarly communication is also changing. Communication used to be completely formal through articles, books, and conference papers, but now, with the advent of of the internet and social media, it is shifting to the more informal and immediate. (Priem, 2012) Altmetrics allow these sorts of informal communications -- such as retweets, Facebook likes, blog posts, and shares -- to be monitored and combined with more traditional bibliometrics into a more complete picture of an article's or author's impact. The development of Altmetrics can also be closely linked to the Open Access movement and the rise of article level metrics (ALM) as one of the largest and most influential Open Access publishers, PLoS, was instrumental in the development of ALMs. Article-level metrics aren't the same as altmetrics, as altmetrics can be applied to many other forms of publication than articles. (Tananbaum, 2013) However, Open Access is especially suited to altmetrics as the articles are easily shared as they are freely available. One of the concerns in using altmetrics is that they might be easily gamed due to the open nature of the tools used and from other examples around the internet in non-academic settings, for example the gaming of Amazon ratings by buying reviews (Charman-Anderson, 2012), however similar concerns have been raised about traditional journals as well. 

How are altmetrics measured?

  • Social reference managers: Networks such as Mendeley and Zotero which aren't just bibliographic managers, but social networks as well can give a huge amount on information on how many people are actually reading articles and/or sharing them,
  • Blogs: Posts in direct response to an article or that reference an article, 
  • Social bookmarking tools: CiteULike, Delicious,
  • Social Networks: Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, LinkedIn etc.

What is the added value of altmetrics?

Altmetrics allow for a faster feedback loop. Usually getting an article to print can take anywhere from six months to three years. So for the citations of an article to come through and for the article to show its impact can take years, which means there's quite a delay in being able to prove your impact. Altmetrics can also record the informal discourse and include scientists who don't publish in peer-reviewed journals (only 15% of working scientists does so) (Priem, 2012), thus allowing you to see all the conversation connected to your publication. In addition, Altmetrics allow quality articles published in journals that might not have a high impact factor to float to the surface. So it's a way to measure impact based on the quality of the article and the reputation of the author, not the title of the journal it's published in. 


Charman-Anderson, S. (2012). Fake Reviews: Amazon’s Rotten Core. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2012/08/28/fake-reviews-amazons-rotten-core/

Priem, J. (2012). Toward a second revolution: altmetrics, total-impact, and the decoupled journal. Invited talk to Purdue University Libraries. Lafayette, IN, February 14, 2012.

Tananbaum, G. (2013). Article-Level Metrics: A SPARC Primer. SPARC. Retrieved from http://sparc.arl.org/resource/sparc-article-level-metrics-primer