Friday, June 1, 2012

Two Architects of Library Discovery Tools Launch an Altmetrics Venture

Michael Kelley / May 31 2012

“Our beta customers will be helping us prioritize the next sources from which to harvest,” Buschman said.

Two prominent veterans of the library vendor world recently launched a startup company which aims to capitalize on the rapidly flowering field of altmetrics.

Andrea Michalek and Mike Buschman had been the director of technology and director of product management, respectively, for ProQuest’s Summon discovery service since its inception. But the pair left the company in November 2011 and in January founded Plum Analytics, deciding that altmetrics presented enough promise to justify surrendering such prominent positions.


After raising money from friends, family, and angel investors, the duo demoed the public alpha product on March 14 at the monthly Philly Tech Meetup (see video).

Since that time, we have been talking to libraries interested in becoming beta customers to help build out the next level of the product, as well as take the opportunity to define the next generation of impact metrics,” Buschman said. [snip].


Altmetrics (short for alternative metrics) provides a new way to measure the impact of scholarly communication. Rather than rely solely on the traditional and slow measure of citations in peer-reviewed articles (the impact factor), altmetrics provides a complementary, instant measurement window that includes all Web-based traces of research communication. It pulls together all the usage data about each individual output a researcher has produced.


Plum Analytics and similar ventures in the field aggregate metrics, collected via open APIs, from sources as varied as Twitter to blogs to open access repositories that publish article-level metrics (such as PLoS) as well as from data repositories, scholarly social bookmarking sites (e.g., Mendeley or CiteULike), code source repositories (GitHub), presentation sharing sites (SlideShare), grant funding data, link shortener metrics, and more.

Plum Analytics is wading into an incipient but very active field, such as this user group on Mendeley or the Twitter hashtag #altmetrics shows. In addition to the article-level metrics application that PLoS has been developing, services similar to Plum Analytics, such as CitedIn, ReaderMeter, and Science Card, have also emerged.

One of the more prominent services is Total-Impact, which Jason Priem, a third-year doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS), and Heather Piwowar, a postdoctoral research associate at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) in Durham, have developed. [snip]


In the case of Plum Analytics, the metrics are presently based on 13 main data sources, which Buschman said they are adding to (including sources more important to social sciences and humanities). Users will likely be allowed to weight the data as they choose (e.g., 50 Tweets equal one “like”).


Wendy Pradt Lougee, the university librarian at the University of Minnesota, said the library there has a very close partnership with the university’s office of research in order to explore ways of revealing more data about researchers, including metrics beyond citations, and rolling out SciVal from Elsevier and the Harvard Profiles research networking software. But attitudes toward altmetrics can vary considerably depending on the disciplinary context.

“Faculty are very discerning in how they are represented and the reputational value of different publication venues and metrics,” Lougee said. “We have seen a growing interest in research networking systems and tools that help move beyond just citations and represent a faculty’s research repertoire more fully,  ... ."

Nevertheless, university librarians such as Lougee and Sarah Michalak at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are keeping a close eye on developments, even if they are not yet ready to plunge headfirst into altmetrics.

“We need to interest ourselves in new ways of measuring the impact of scholarship and new and powerful kinds of information tools,” Michalak said, noting that librarians were among the first to see the possibilities in the school’s Reach NC project.

Buschman of Plum Analytics saw the library as a natural ally. The data becomes a tool that libraries can use to help researchers determine which forms of communication generate the most meaningful interaction with their research and also track forms of impact that are not contained in the citation record.


However, pulling together all the usage data about each individual output a researcher has produced presents a number of technological challenges. [snip].


Befitting their background as architects of Summon, Buschman and Michalek also are attempting to build a commercial-grade product that can  scale up to the challenge of loading the research output from millions of researchers, and the data sources that report off them.

“The flexibility of data analysis at scale is the sweet spot of our solution,” Buschman said.  “We are building toolsets not just for collecting the article level metrics, but also for mapping the hierarchy of the institution and the affiliations of the researchers.”


“In the long term, this is a chance for libraries to lead the way into a web-native, post-journal world of scholarly communication, in which aggregated conversation and review by experts replaces the slow, closed, inefficient, atavistic system we’ve inherited from the last century,” said Priem of Total-Impact.

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