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Research Metrics


Making metrics more relevant

There are many questions about the relevance today of measuring the impact of research based on citations of journal articles. David Stuart examines whether emerging alternative metrics could provide some better insight


he web has spawned a host of new publishing formats and genres, and both researchers and publishers have had to adapt to the changing publishing environment. Researchers are not only expected to publish in traditional journals, but are increasingly expected to publish in a wide range of formal and informal outputs online, from humble tweets to massive data sets. At the same time, publishers are attempting to incorporate new web technologies into the traditional model to both enhance conventional journal articles and better engage with the research community.

These changes have undoubtedly created a far richer research environment, but they also raise new questions for researchers, publishers, and information professionals: How do researchers demonstrate the impact of their new publishing

activities? How can publishers demonstrate the continued worth of traditional publications? How can information professionals filter the increased deluge of information? Increasingly, the answer to each of these questions is: altmetrics. The term altmetrics was coined by a group of academics in response to a perceived need for better methods for measuring the impact of scholarship in a rapidly-changing environment. Rather than relying solely on traditional indicators of scholarly impact, they argued that the structured information found on burgeoning social networking sites could provide new indicators of impact.

Peer review is resource-intensive and only captures a limited number of opinions on the value of a piece of work, and citation-based metrics are limited to certain types of publication

and can take years for the impact of a piece of work to be demonstrated. In contrast, altmetrics promises a battery of timely indicators from a wide range of online communities. Because many social network sites provide APIs (a simple way for a computer program to extract data from a service automatically) and third-party services gather and repackage this data for potential customers, a more nuanced picture of the impact of a wider range of scholarly work can quickly be discovered with a few clicks of the mouse or a few lines of code.

Altmetrics for journal articles To date much of the attention has been on the potential of altmetrics to provide a more complete picture of the impact of traditional journal articles. Publishers such as IOP Publishing, Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and PLOS are now incorporating article views as well as altmetrics from a wide range of sources alongside the articles on their sites. Whilst IOP’s recently- launched altmetric offering centres around well established science-focused social media services such as CiteuLike, Mendeley, and Connotea, as well as citation counts from CrossRef, PLOS has also included the less science-focused social networks of Facebook and Twitter as well as the established citation providers of Scopus and the Web of Science. NPG’s recent announcement in this area means that users can view an article’s citation data, page views, news mentions, blog posts and social shares including Facebook and Twitter.

As Graham McCann, head of product management and innovation at IOP Publishing

DEC 2012/JAN 2013 Research Information 13

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