Library Tips: Altmetrics

Posted by Carolyn Caffrey Gardner and Beth Namei

The term "altmetrics" refers to "alternative metrics" or "article-level metrics." As the internet accelerated dissemination of scholarly work, scholars wanted a way to determine a work's impact beyond the more traditional methods of citation counts and journal impact factors, which can take years to accumulate. Altmetrics attempt to provide early indicators of impact using social media mentions, link backs, coverage by blogs and news outlets, and other metrics to measure the reach of a particular work. Altmetrics data is especially well-suited to non-traditional publications like datasets and slide decks, such as through ImpactStory and figshare. Some of the main providers of altmetrics data are, Plum Analytics, ImpactStory, and individual journal platforms often provide them. Many databases and publishers incorporate this data into their user interfaces and applications.

One of the most prominent places you’ll find altmetric data is in the USC Libraries Main Search option (powered by ProQuest). An altmetric button will now appear if there is data available for a given publication. By hovering your cursor over the this button, you will see what online attention the work has received. Clicking the button or anywhere on the pop-up box will take you to a joint ProQuest/Altmetric website (in a new window) that includes a list of the mentions ranging from Wikipedia entries to social media posts, depending on the publication. will compare the publication by percentile to other publications of the same age, and from the same source. That number of total mentions will appear in the “donut," whose colors represent the various sources of mentions.

donut.pngOther databases and publishers that incorporate data include Scopus, Wiley Publications, Elsevier Publications, and Nature Publishing Group. Individual journals, such as PLoS, also provide article-level metrics such as downloads, saves, and views.

As with other metrics, scholars caution using altmetrics as a proxy for publication quality. Some research topics receive more public interest than others and metrics can amplify disparities in distribution rather than correct them. As a fairly new metric, there aren't standards for quality for altmetrics, though organizations like NISO are currently working to correct that. Finally, article-level metrics disproportionately impact the social science and science fields where journal articles are widely used. The humanities and associated disciplines, which privilege books, are still seeking comparable alternative metrics.

For more information on altmetrics check out our library research guide, which also includes information on traditional metrics like journal citation reports. Also consult the following research articles that examine the usefulness of these new metrics:

Have questions? As always, feel free to ask a librarian. For more tips check out our post archives.