some questions about altmetrics

Altmetrics is the “new thing” which looks at the impact of academic research into social media. This has two benefits as it measures how these ideas are disseminated into the wider public, and also allows much quicker feedback to a researcher on the work they are doing than using more traditional methods of citations. So this seems like a good thing, but I have two main doubts about whether this could successfully rolled out across the academic community:

  1. There are far too many different social media products 
  2. They aren’t used consistently by researchers

So to go into a bit more detail on these points; firstly, on a technical front there are loads of different social media tools (many of which do similar things) and it would be difficult to get data from all of them into one summary tool. Also as I’m sure they don’t record the same things it would be impossible to collate these into one (or a series) of metrics in any meaningful way. Also, judging which is most important for any individual or subject area would be

Secondly, while the idea of using slideshare (or another similar tool) to share your presentation from a conference to a wider audience seems like a great idea, if by doing that you jeopardise the possibility of publishing that data/ideas in the most prestigious journals in your field you’re not going to do it. Whilst journal articles continue to be seen as the gold standard for publishing research, and that is what is used for judging recruitment, promotions and awarding grants, there isn’t going to be any whole scale adoption of using these tools to publish research output. Also, researchers don’t have the time to publish in both places so the one that counts for their career is the one they will prioritise.

So overall I think these develops are very interesting and seeing how academic research has permeated into the wider public is intriguing. But I’m not sure that they will be able to be used instead of journal publishing and traditional citations. Something to watch though as if there is a radical shake-up of academic publishing because of open access (though this has been promised for years!) then these tools could become more important within academia.


  1. Hi Clari, these are good points and they lie at the hear of the question of how to change the way academic credit is created and valued. From the perspective of adoption of altmetrics generally your point about papers still being the key output is absolutely spot on. This is why most altmetrics/article level metrics work is currently focussed on *new* measures of *traditional* outputs – so supplementing the (useful!) information that comes from citations. The flip side of this is work looking at traditional measures (citations) of non-traditional outputs – I have a couple of online presentations that have been formally cited for instance.

    Ultimately the aim is to provide rich information on the different ways in which research outputs, both traditional and in the future non-traditional, so the expanse of social media and tracking possibilities is a real benefit – but its early days yet. The aggregation problem is a real one but there’s lots of value to be got out of even just the few sources that are being looked at in detail at the moment.

    In the end of course your objections also apply to citations – there are too many different and incompatible measures of citations as well, and both citation and citation measures are used highly inconsistently by researchers in different domains and in different places. But that’s the nature of measurement, no measure is perfect, the question is whether its useful or not.

    • Cameron, you’re right that these new tools do add value to the more traditional citations, and no method is perfect. I think what I was trying to say was that it is tricky to use them to compare different people as they are likely to have different levels of engagement with the different tools. Though re-reading it I’m not sure that came across very well!

      • I think its fair to say that you wouldn’t want to compare people on single measures. But if you were interested in the social media reach of someone (for instance) and they’re not engaged with those tools then they’re not going to have much reach. It’s all a question of what the right level of granularity is and obviously what is worth asking questions about. But I’d also be quite explicit that my view is that some of these tools are an effective way of enhancing the impact of some research so measuring people’s engagement with them as a way of encouraging people to use them where appropriate to expand the reach of their research is part of what I am trying to do.

  2. I think what I’m worried about Cameron is that they will be used as a measure to compare people, although you’re right that there is alot of potential to encourage researchers to engage with social media and use it to reach a wider audience.

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