Library:Scholarly Communications/Citation Analysis/Altmetrics

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What are Altmetrics?

Altmetrics are an emerging way to track the social impact of scholarly research. As opposed to traditional article-level metrics, which measure only formal journal citations, altmetrics attempt to measure the visibility and impact of research by look at emerging data sources, such as:

  • Download counts from online journals
  • Page views
  • Mentions in news reports
  • Mentions on social media
  • Mentions in blogs, or on Wikipedia
  • Activity on reference manager readers, such as Mendelay or CiteULike

Altmetrics are not the same thing as article-level metrics: both attempt to measure the impact of research at an article level, but while article-level metrics rely on traditional measures such as journal citations, altmetrics attempt to take new and emerging types of scholarly sharing and communication into account.

Both sides of the debate:

Like other methods for measuring research impact, there are both benefits and limitations to altmetrics.


  • Provide different markers of an article’s reach, beyond just formal citations.
  • May be used to uncover the impact of just-published research. Measures of journal citations may take months to accumulate, but altmetrics data begins to appear immediately upon publication.
  • May be used in parallel with traditional impact factors and citation counts to add a more nuanced, qualitative account of impact.
  • Encourage a focus on public engagement
  • Measure all types of scholarly products: such as sharing of openly available data, software, etc.


  • Data currently lacks the ability to make distinctions of quality and intent within feedback. For instance, the mention of a new research paper many times on twitter is not necessarily an indication of the quality of the research.
  • Altmetrics may be susceptible to “gaming”, or attempts to manually conflate the appearance of impact. Note that this issue of manipulation is one that affects many types of metrics, however.
  • Preferred platforms for scholarly sharing emerge and wane in their importance regularly. The data sources measured for altmetrics must be regularly evaluated for relevance and normalized.

Selected Altmetrics Tools

1. PLOS article-level metrics
PLOS Article-level metrics provide information on page views, citations, downloads, and mentions on various social media sites. See the Metrics information for the article Who Shares? Who Doesn't? Factors Associated with Openly Archiving Raw Research Data (2013) for a sample.

2. ImpactStory
ImpactStory is an open-source, web-based tool that measures the impact of a variety of research products (including journal articles, datasets, and software, among others) by harvesting data from a variety of online sources (see their FAQ “which metrics are measured?” for a comprehensive list). See a Sample Report.

3. Altmetric
Altmetric seeks to “track and analyze the online activity around scholarly literature”. The Altmetrics Bookmarklet is used by publishers such as Nature and in the PLOS Altmetrics Collection (See a collection of altmetrics demos at the PLoS Impact Explorer).

4. Plum Analytics
Plum Analytics is still in the development stages. Users are able to sign up for the beta version of the service, though, and the site provides a lot of detail on how it gathers data.

5. figshare
figshare is a repository where users can make their research available in a manner that allows it to be easily cited, shared, and discovered. It tracks views and shares on a few social media platforms, and plans to implement citation tracking soon.

Find Out More


  • #altmetrics on Twitter: Use the #altmetrics hashtag on twitter to follow the conversation.
  • Mendeley Altmetrics Group: A group which aims to share literature and discuss new approaches to the assessment of scholarly impact based on new metrics.

Further Reading: