Thing 23: Altmetrics

The rise of Web 2.0 technologies is linked to non-traditional scholarly publishing formats such as reports, data sets, blogs, and outputs on other social media platforms. But how do you track impact when traditional measures such as citation counts don’t apply? Altmetrics to the rescue!

Getting Started

The term “altmetrics” (=alternative metrics) was coined in a tweet in 2010, and its development since then has gone from strength to strength, resulting in a manifesto. With no absolute definition the term can refer to

  • impact measured on the basis of online activity, mined or gathered from online tools and social media (e.g. tweets, mentions, shares, links, downloads, clicks, views,  comments, ratings, followers and so on);
  • metrics for alternative research outputs, for example citations to datasets;
  • alternative ways of measuring research impact. 

Benefits of altmetrics include the fact that they can

  • provide a faster method of accumulation than the more traditional citation-based metrics; 
  • complement traditional citation-based metrics providing a more diverse range of research impact and engagement; 
  • offer an opportunity to track the increasing availability of data, presentations, software, policy documents and other research outputs in the online environment.  

Below we introduce some of the tools available to University of Melbourne staff and students to start collecting altmetrics.

Altmetric Explorer

Altmetric Explorer has been monitoring online sources since 2012, collating data from Web of Science, Scopus, Mendeley, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Wikipedia (English language), YouTube, public policy documents, blogs and more. Altmetric Explorer uses a donut graphic to visually identify the type and quantity of attention a research output has received:

 Altmetric Explorer’s “Attention Score” – the number displayed inside the donut graphic – gives an automatically calculated, weighted count of the attention received by a research output. See here for details of how the Attention Score is calculated, and here for a short video explaining Altmetric Explorer further.

The University of Melbourne Library’s subscription to Altmetric Explorer provides access to institutional data, as well as data for individual researchers and their outputs. Consider installing the Altmetric bookmarklet on your toolbar to view Altmetric metrics for your publications. (Note: this is only available for PubMed, arXiv or pages containing a DOI with Google Scholar friendly citation metadata.)

PlumX Metrics

PlumX brings together research metrics for all types of scholarly research output, categorised as follows:  

  • Usage: clicks, downloads, views, library holdings, video plays… 
  • Captures: bookmarks, code forks, favorites, readers, watchers… 
  • Mention: blog posts, comments, reviews, Wikipedia links, news media… 
  • Social Media: tweets, Facebook likes, shares… 
  • Citations: citation indexes (CrossRef/Scopus/Pubmed Central etc), patent citations, clinical citations, policy citations…

PlumX Metrics for individual articles, conference proceedings, book chapters, and other resources, are available via the University of Melbourne Library’s Discovery search service – look for the Plum Print in the results list for your search, and hover your cursor over it to expand details of the metrics:

Example of PlumX Metrics for an article retrieved through Discovery

Scopus also displays PlumX Metrics for articles where available, offering an interesting opportunity to view altmetrics alongside “traditional” citation metrics,  and the Scopus field-weighted citation impact.


Impactstory is an open source, web-based researcher profile that provides altmetrics to help researchers measure and share the impacts of their research outputs for traditional outputs (e.g. journal articles), as well as alternative research outputs such as blog posts, datasets and software. Researchers can register an Impactstory profile for free via their Twitter account, then link other profiles such as ORCID and Google Scholar, as well as Pubmed IDs, DOIs, Webpage URLs, Slideshare and Github usernames. Impactstory then provides an overview of the attention these connected collections have received. Information from Impactstory can be exported for private use. 

Have a look at this Impactstory example profile to find out more.

Public Library of Science – Article Level Metrics (PLOS ALMs)

If you publish research in the life sciences you can use PLOS ALMs to help guide understanding of the influence and impact of work before the accrual of academic citations.  

  • All PLOS journal articles display PLOS ALMs – quantifiable measures that incorporate both academic and social metrics to document the many ways in which both scientists and the general public engage with published research.  
  • PLOS ALMs are presented on the metrics tab on every published article. 
  • Use ALM reports to guide you to the most important and influential work published. 

Minerva Access

The University of Melbourne’s institutional repository, Minerva Access, allows research higher degree students and research staff to safely promote and self-publish their research. There are a number of incentives for including in the repository: 

  • Minerva Access is harvested by Google Scholar, which in turn provides exposure and potential citation follow on
  • Minerva Access provides usage statistics for each item in the Repository as well as each collection and sub-collection. See the left hand foot of each page and click on the Statistics icon/link to see data on the number of times each record has been viewed (and from which countries), and – if applicable – the number of times any associated PDF has been downloaded. Data is available by month and by year. 


  • Altmetrics have several advantages over traditional citation counts: they are quicker to accumulate, they document non-scholarly attention and influence, and they can be used to track the attention for non-traditional research outputs. However, they cannot tell anything about the quality of the research. You need both types of metrics – traditional and alternative – to get the full picture of research impact.
  • Manual work is needed to assess the underlying qualitative data that makes up the metrics (who is saying what about research). 
  • While altmetrics are good at indentifying ‘trending’ research, they have not yet been proven to be a good indicator for lasting, long-term impact. 
  • Researchers seeking to evaluate non-English-language sources will find that altmetrics coverage is currently limitied for these outputs. 

Learn More

  • For guidance around the tools, including useful summaries and tips, have a look at the University of Melbourne Library’s Altmetrics Subject Research Guide.
  • The Altmetric Explorer website provides a range of case studies  of what researchers and institutions have used to track the societal attention to their research.
  • In this blog post, Prof. Jonathan A. Eisen at the University of California, Davis, describes how he used Impactstory to look at the altmetrics of his research papers and data. 
  • Dip into the readings of the PLOS Altmetrics Collection and gather understanding on the statistical analysis of altmetrics data sources, validation of models of scientific discovery and qualitative research describing discovery based on altmetrics. 
  • The London School of Economics Impact Blog regularly runs features on Altmetrics.

This post was written by Georgina Binns (Faculty Librarian, VCA and MCM) and Fransie Naudé (Liaison Librarian, Education).

Image: “altmetrics” by AJC1 via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *