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About Altmetrics

The term altmetrics, a shortening of "alternative" metrics, was first shared on Twitter in 2010 by Jason Priem, a doctoral student who  went on to co-found an altmetrics tracking service called Impactstory

It began with a discussion amongst academics on social media around the desire for research impact to focus more on article level metrics and the multitude of ways articles were being shared and viewed in addition to citation counts.

Development of altmetrics

  • To complement, not replace traditional metrics
  • Help people understand how research is being received and used, and by who
  • Not intended as an indicator of quality
  • Can help provide further evidence of engagement and 'societal impact'
  • Give credit for research outputs other than articles

Andy Tattersall

Altmetrics definition, standards and guidelines for use

The increasing interest in the potential use of altmetrics and the changing nature of digital research and the tools being used to share and engage has provided the push to ensure that the same issues that often surround the transparency of traditional metrics are not repeated.

NISO (National Information Standards Organization) recently undertook an initiative to provide an agreed definition, standards and best practice guidelines for the use of these new emerging metrics. Working groups consisted of a number of international universities, research institutes, academic publishers, libraries and altmetrics tracking services. 

"Altmetrics is a broad term that encapsulates the collection of multiple digital indicators related to scholarly work. These indicators are derived from activity and engagement among diverse stakeholders and scholarly outputs in the research ecosystem, including the public sphere".
Outputs of the NISO Alternative Assessment Metrics Project: A Recommended Practice of the National Information Standards Organization

A beginners guide to altmetrics

Why altmetrics?

Altmetrics are part of a wider conversation around the use of measures to try and capture the potential impact of research within academia and beyond, including bibliometrics and other indicators such as teaching activities, enhancements to curriculum, awards etc. 

Complementary                                    Score is an indicator and the underlying,
to traditional citation                              qualitative data tells you who's saying 
metrics                                                     what about research.

 alt     +   metrics


Track attention across scholarly outputs across peer reviews, news, Wikipedia citations, policy documents, research blogs, bookmarks on reference managers like Mendeley, and mentions on Twitter.

image: Andy Tattersall

Research disciplines that produce more diverse research ouputs and those that are slow to produce citation counts can use altmetrics as a way to ensure these outputs are included in showcasing evidence of potential impact. For all disciplines altmetrics provide a way to view the societal and economic use of research that may have not have been visible before such as in grey literature like policy papers and clinical guidelines etc. 
They are not meant as an alternative to existing traditional indicators like the h-index but to be used in addition to these metrics.  

Pros and Cons


  • Speed and discoverability

Altmetrics data accumulates at a faster speed than traditional citation metrics. In disciplines where citations take time or for early career  researchers this speed can provide a measure of attention and engagement elsewhere for their research.

  • Alternative scholarly outputs

Altmetrics offer the opportunity for alternative types of research outputs to be tracked and counted.

  • Open Access advantage and lmpactstory provide access to their application programming interface (API) and source code. Altmetric providers also pull their data from open sources, who give access to their APls or raw usage data, which makes altmetric data more easily replicable than data in  subscription databases.


  • Almetrics are time-dependent

As altmetric data providers, and their sources, are still relatively new (typically 2011-current), altmetric data is often irrelevant to older publications.

  • Reliability of tracking

Altmetrics tracking services rely on stable identifiers to track scholarly outputs but Identifiers are not always stable.

  • Misuse and acceptance

The conversation around the correct use of altmetrics and the acceptance amongst the scholarly community is still ongoing.