Sunday, October 6, 2013

ASIS Bulletin > Altmetrics: What, Why and Where?

Heather Piwowar, Guest Editor


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.

The collection begins with its most general article, one I authored with my ImpactStory co-founder Jason Priem, motivating the role of altmetrics for individual scholars through "The Power of Altmetrics on a CV." The next few papers highlight ways that altmetrics may transform scholarly communication itself. Ross Mounce, a doctoral student and Panton Fellow of the Open Knowledge Foundation, explores the relationship between open access and altmetrics in "OA and Altmetrics: Distinct but Complementary." Juan Pablo Alperin, doctoral student and developer with the Public Knowledge Project, encourages us to "Ask Not What Altmetrics Can Do for You, but What Altmetrics Can Do for Developing Countries." Stacy Konkiel and Dave Scherer, librarians at Indiana University and Purdue, respectively, discuss how almetrics can empower institutional repositories in "New Opportunities for Repositories in the Age of Altmetrics."
Completing the collection are three more perspectives from the builders of hot altmetrics tools. Jennifer Lin and Martin Fenner, both of PLOS, explore patterns in altmetrics data in "The Many Faces of Article-level Metrics." Jean Liu, blogger, and Euan Adie, founder of, consider "Five Challenges in Altmetrics: A Toolmaker's Perspective." Finally, Mike Buschman and Andrea Michalek, founders of Plum Analytics, wrap up the collection asking, "Are Alternative Metrics Still Alternative?"


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.


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