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Research Assessment ‘The response among academics in

general is broadly speaking non-existent. Researchers as a group are not particularly interested in measurement of research and are often dismissive of new measures of any type,’ observed Cameron Neylon, one of the researchers behind the call for alt-metrics. In addition, he said that ‘broadly speaking, researchers are fairly contemptuous of anything that happens on the web that includes comments from the wider public.’ Not all researchers are indifferent to the

idea though: ‘Among the small subgroup of researchers and others who are interested in measurement there has been a very positive response. The term itself is now being widely used in that subset of the research community that is online and interacting with the wider world and it is getting wider attention from funders, service providers, and other interested parties,’ continued Neylon.

Gaining acceptance Nonetheless, he believes that two things need to happen before any measurement will be accepted by the wider research community. Firstly, he said that measure has to be seen to matter, which means it needs to be accepted

as evidence by funders, or promotion and employment panels. Secondly, it has to be seen to measure something that has value to the community. ‘For the first, there is some interest and presenting alt-metrics as evidence of wider impacts is a plausible route forward as this can provide quantifiable evidence of changing views or awareness,’ said Neylon. ‘For the second, I think the first places that such measures will be accepted is in the same kind of areas, engagement, education, demonstrating public and social impact. Further down the track we will start to see these kinds of measures more widely used as evidence of research impact, of re-use and interest in papers and traditional outputs, but that is likely to take longer.’

Challenges of the changing web There is no doubt that there is a need for improved metrics that reflect the increasingly complex information landscape of today’s researchers; encouraging researchers to take full advantages of the technologies that are available. However, establishing these metrics will not be easy. Social media sites go in and out of fashion, leaving little time for

any one particular metric to gain widespread acceptance. The impact of a researcher’s work on Twitter may seem relevant today, in two years time it could be deemed as relevant as a researcher’s impact on MySpace. It is also possible that the increased interest

in alternative metrics will see the emergence of the academic equivalent of link-farms, with organisations offering services to help increase a researcher’s online impact in the same way that search engine optimisers offer to increase a website’s ranking on Google. However, such problems are not insurmountable: metrics can be established that transcend any single site, and algorithms developed to help identify those who are trying to artificially inflate their impact. In the Web 2.0 world there are a host

of different metrics that may be brought forward to represent a person’s online impact, and there is a lot of research to be carried out before we establish which are the most appropriate.

David Stuart is a research associate at the Centre for e-Research, King’s College London, as well as an honorary research fellow in the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group, University of Wolverhampton

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