Thing 16 – Altmetrics

thing 16
[Photo credit: Sebastian Dooris: CC BY-SA 2.0]
In the previous Thing, we looked at the time-honoured tradition of using bibliometrics to measure research output and impact. Now, let’s take a look at a new kid on the block.

Alternative resources and alternative data

Altmetrics, or alternative metrics, study resources and data that owe their existence primarily to the online environment. Alternative resources include material such as online research blogs, datasets, or software. Such outputs are an increasingly important aspect of sharing of research. Online-specific data have only relatively recently become available and include data such as numbers of tweets, clicks, or downloads. These data offer alternatives to citation data for the quantitative assessment of research.

A new but fast moving field

Altmetrics, although still in its infancy, is attracting a lot of interest as a potentially useful way to measure research outputs. Because altmetrics cover such a wide range of types of resources and data, they can be used to examine not just the academic impact of research but also its societal impact.

At present, perhaps the biggest two stumbling blocks for altmetrics are the lack of standardisation across online resources and data—and hence, in practice, little ability to normalise metrics—and the ease with which altmetric results can be gamed.   Nonetheless, even if altmetrics aren’t yet suitable for formal studies comparable to those we carry out using bibliometrics, altmetrics certainly have their uses for the individual academic; REF impact case studies provide a good example.

Altmetric tools

There are many tools online for the creation and capture of altmetrics. ImpactStory and both aggregate altmetric information to allow you to study the academic and societal impact of research. Research networks such as ResearchGate and are aimed primarily at helping researchers create academic impact through sharing their research with others in the research community. And, of course, don’t forget non-academic-centric social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Used in the right way, these channels can be highly effective ways to share your research, both with academic colleagues and wider society



  • What types of alternative resources does ImpactStory aggregate?
  • Are any of these alternative resources especially important in your research field? If not, do you think they might be in future?


  • Visit com to learn more about the company’s distinctive altmetric donut. A key feature of this donut is the ‘click for more details’ option which allows you to retrieve specific details such as who said what about the article as well as where it is capturing interest.


  • Did you know that Scopus now includes the altmetric donut for many of the recent articles indexed in its database? This means that you can retrieve both citation and altmetric information for an article in one place. Log into Scopus and have a look at the record for this publication.   Scroll down the page until you find the altmetric donut and click on the ‘open report in new tab’ option. Explore the information you see. If you were an author on this paper, how might you use the altmetric information that the article has been tweeted often by members of the public and that it is cited in Wikipedia?
  • If you wish, open Chrome, Firefox, or Safari and follow the instructions to install the altmetric bookmarklet app. Now test the app by visiting the Leiden Manifesto for Research Metrics, a recent comment article published in Nature. Now click on ‘altmetric it!’   If your installation has worked, you should see the altmetric donut appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen. At time of writing this blog, the Leiden Manifesto article has no citations in Scopus and does not even appear in Web of Science, seeming to suggest it has had little post publication impact. How does the picture presented by the article’s altmetrics differ?



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