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Altmetrics

What are altmetrics?

Altmetrics (alternative metrics) are measures of the impact of published research beyond traditional citations, which can be used to supplement the information gained from traditional bibliometrics.

Depending on what indicators are used, they can show scholarly interest (eg Mendeley bookmarking), media interest (eg news stories), or public engagement (eg social media activity). They can also be used to identify the use of research in policy documents or other official publications which may not appear in the conventional citation databases. Altmetrics can also be used to gauge the impact of research outputs that would not be included in traditional bibliometrics, for example data sets, software, or presentations. In some cases, they can be used to provide an early indication of the level of citations a paper is likely to recieve.

The use of altmetrics is a new and developing field, and there are a number of competing services offering altmetric data.

Why use altmetrics?
  • Speed of feedback, they are nearly real-time metrics of scholarly impact.
  • More complete picture of scholarly activities.
  • To demonstrate public impact.
  • View up-to-date trends in research.
  • Demonstrate an impact through alternatives metrics.
  • Improve your impact.
  • 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.
  • Altmetrics rely on more than just citations; altmetrics include discussion by the media, mentions in the news, discussion by the public as well as importance to colleagues. 
  • They are often based on open data. The difference between altmetrics and traditional metrics is that altmetrics use mostly publicly available data, making the process and calculations completely transparent.
Issues with altmetrics
  • Easier to game altmetrics than citation metrics
  • Altmetric activity may indicate controversy or notoriety rather than interest
  • Fast pace of uptake and developments in social media 
  • Many papers, particularly older ones, do not have any altmetric data

In addition, many of the broad problems with citation metrics apply to altmetric data. In particular, it is difficult to standardise and compare data between papers of different ages, or in different fields.

In general, it is best to treat altmetric figures as broad indicators - high activity tells us that there is something interesting there, but the details should be examined before drawing conclusions. They should never be used to quote a single numeric "score".

Useful altmetrics links

Detailed recommendations on using new and alternative metrics are available as part of the UCL bibliometrics policy guidance.

How to find altmetrics