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Citation Analysis and Research Impact: Altmetrics

Introduction Altmetrics: What, Why & Where?

What are altmetrics? – Altmetric Introduction altmetrics: What, why and where?

Altmetrics is a hot buzzword. What does it mean? What's behind the buzz? What are the risks and benefits of using alternative metrics of research impact – altmetrics – in our discovery and evaluation systems? How are altmetrics being used now, and where is the field going?

This special section of the Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology focuses on these questions. Essays from seven perspectives highlight the role of altmetrics in a wide variety of settings.



Before you dive in, if you are new to altmetrics, let me give you a quick informal introduction. For decades, the most common metric for evaluating research impact has been the number of times a research article is cited by other articles. This metric is sometimes represented by the raw count of citations received by the specific article in question or sometimes through an impact-by-association proxy – the number of citations received by the journal that published the article, summarized using a formula called the journal impact factor.

Citations are not the only way to represent the impact of a research article. A few alternative indicators have been the subjects of webometrics and bibliometrics research for years, including download counts and mentions in patents. However, as scholarly communication moves increasingly online, more indicators have become available: how many times an article has been bookmarked, blogged about, cited in Wikipedia and so on. These metrics can be considered altmetrics – alternative metrics of impact. (Appropriately enough, the term altmetrics was first proposed in a tweet [https:/].)

We might even consider nontraditional applications of citation metrics to be altmetrics – citations to datasets as first-class research objects, for example. Other examples include citation counts filtered by type of citation, like citations by editorials or citations only from review articles or citations made only in the context of experimental replication. All of these are alternative indicators of impact.

Altmetrics offer four potential advantages:
  • A more nuanced understanding of impact, showing us which scholarly products are read, discussed, saved and recommended as well as cited.

  • Often more timely data, showing evidence of impact in days instead of years.

  • A window on the impact of web-native scholarly products like datasets, software, blog posts, videos and more.

  • Indications of impacts on diverse audiences including scholars but also practitioners, clinicians, educators and the general public.

Of course, these indicators may not be “alternative” for long. At that point, hopefully we'll all just call them metrics.

Dive in, read all about it and let us know what you think. Continued conversation, background information and crowdsourced lists of new research and resources can be found on twitter using the hashtag #altmetrics (, in the altmetrics Mendeley group ( and probably at a conference near you.

Thanks very much to all authors in this collection for voluntarily making their articles openly available for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (

Happy reading!

Heather Piwowar is a postdoc at Duke University, studying the adoption and use of open research data. She is also a co-founder of ImpactStory (, an open-source web tool that helps scholars track and report the broader impacts of their research. @researchremix

Altmetrics: an overview and evaluation

Altmetrics: an overview and evaluation

by Ann E. Williams
The primary purpose of this paper is to provide a description, overview, and evaluation of altmetrics, an understudied yet increasingly important arena of study for scholars, academics, and professional researchers. The paper is organized into six parts: the first defines altmetrics and clarifies the concept of altmetrics in its various forms; the second examines how altmetrics work; the third presents multiple typologies under which altmetrics can be classified and studied; the fourth details the technological capabilities of altmetrics; the fifth presents a critical evaluation of the pros and consof altmetrics; and, the sixth outlines some directions for future and ongoing research.

What are Altmetrics?

Altmetrics, or Alternative metrics, are a new way of measuring and monitoring the reach and impact of scholarship and research through online interactions.

 Altmetrics can answer questions such as:

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

Altmetrics are intended to compliment, not totally replace, more traditional measurements of academic success (citation counts, journal prestige (impact factor), and author H-index) to give a more complete picture of how research and scholarship is used.

Drawbacks of Altmetrics

  1. The use of Altmetics is still at a developmental stage: whereas traditional metrics relied on data pulled from scholarly literature, Altmetrics draw on sources like blogs and twitter whose importance is growing but whose role in scholarly communication is still changing and subject to debate.
  2. There is not yet widespread agreement on how the data sources can be used to provide a reliable indicator of influence.
  3. Since the data sources are new, it is impossible to make comparisons with the past.

How do Altmetrics compensate for the limitations of Traditional Metrics?

  1. Altmetrics make use of the many kinds of data besides citations that can tell us about the importance of articles. Citations only measure one type of impact.  However, with the rise of the internet, there are a number of different data sources, from page views, downloads and comments, to the number of mentions on blogs or social media which provide a more complete picture of the reach and impact of research and scholarship; one that goes beyond citations in peer-reviewed publications. It is this capacity to track interaction with online items which enables Altmetrics to measure research impact and reach.


  1. The slow pace of academic publishing means that it can take months or years before an article begins to appear in journal citations in any number. The relative speed of Altmetrics provides a new way of measuring scholarly output that helps scholars to keep abreast of the developments in their field by identifying important new scholarship.

Research impact: Altmetrics make their mark

altmetrics: a manifesto –

Research impact: Altmetrics make their mark

Alternative measures can yield useful data on achievement — but must be used cautiousl

Altmetrics offer researchers a way to showcase the impact of papers that have not yet gathered many citations, and to demonstrate engagement with the public. They can be accessed through journals or independent websites, and can track the impact of particular data sets or papers, or evaluate the combined influence of publications and products produced by multiple researchers in a department.


Making Altmetrics work for you – some tools

Altmetric is a London-based start-up focused on making article level metrics easy.   Their mission is to track and analyse the online activity around scholarly literature.


The Altmetric Bookmarklet

Instantly get article level metrics for any recent paper, for free.  Simply drag the button below to your bookmarks bar, navigate to a journal article page, and hit "Altmetric it!"



Impactstory is a tool that gathers altmetrics from many sources under one roof. It is a way to promote, manage, and share your research and scholarship. Some researchers are using Impactstory as an alternative to a static online CV/resume.


Plum Analytics

Plum is a for-profit company that offers analytics for 20 different kinds of “artifacts,” including journal articles, book chapters, datasets, presentations and source code. It aggregates data based on a variety of sources at a variety of different levels, including artifact, author, lab, department, and journal.

Towards a common model of citation: some thoughts on merging altmetrics and bibliometrics

Towards a common model of citation: some thoughts on merging altmetrics and bibliometrics

Reporting back: This article is based on presentations that Mike Taylor gave at the PLoS article level metrics workshop in San Francisco and at the World Social Science Forum (WSSF) in Montreal, both in October 2013

Further reading

Further reading

Haustein, S., Peters, I., Bar-Ilan, J., Priem, J., Shema, Terliesner, J. (2013, April 6). Coverage and adoption of altmetrics sources in the bibliometric community. ArXiv.

Konkiel, S. (2014). The ultimate guide to staying up-to-date on your articles impact. Impact Story Blog.

Priem, J. Altmetrics: A Manifesto.

Priem, J., H. Piwowar, B. Hemminger. (2012, March 20). Altmetrics in the wild: using social media to explore scholarly impact. ArXiv

Roemer, R.C., R. Borchardt. (2012) From bibliometrics to altmetrics: a changing scholarly landscape. College and Research Libraries News, 73 (10), 596-600.

Sud, P., Thelwall, M. (2014) Evaluating altmetrics. Scientometrics 98, 1131–1143.

Altmetrics Bibliography