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Plum Analytics: a new player in the field of altmetrics?

28 Sep, 12 | by Claire Bower, Digital Comms Manager, @clairebower

The “publish or perish” model of the academic world has followed a similar pattern since the middle of the last century. It generally takes around seven years from the conception of an idea, to the publishing of a paper, to the point where a critical mass of citations are formally gathered around it.

“Clearly the world moves much, much faster than that now,” argues Andrea Michalek, co-founder of startup Plum Analytics, with researchers posting slides online about their work even before it’s published, and tweets mentioning those discussions and linking back to the content. “All this data exhaust is happening in advance of researchers’ getting those cited-by counts,” she says, and once a paper is published, the opportunities for online references to it grow.

Now these new metrics can be recorded using the Researcher Graph that Plum Analytics is building. It will mine the web, social networks and university-hosted data repositories as well as other relevant offline sources to create a map of the relationships between researchers, institutions, papers, and those who follow or engage with them. Plum’s Researcher Graph uses RDF, the same data model that underlies the semantic web.

The social networks currently tracked by Plum are Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. However, co-founder Mike Buschman says that, “if scholarly social networks appear, we are open to adding anything.” Data repositories involved at present include all Dryad and Figshare ones.

Plum’s first customer is the University of Pittsburgh Library System (ULS), which will supply details of its researchers in the form of profiles that include lists of their work. In turn, Plum will enhance the profiles to build a directory that links the list to “usage and interaction metrics” from open sources, social networks, data repositories, and blogs etc.

Plum’s products are expected to help researchers learn how best to promote their research. They can track how effectively different methods of communication or outlets reach particular communities and as the database grows, it will help people measure how their work compares with other institutions.

Plum Analytics is entering into a budding but very active field. In addition to the article-level metrics application that PLoS has been developing, services similar to Plum Analytics, such as CitedIn, ReaderMeter, and Science Card, have also emerged. The buzz has even reached mainstream media, with the Guardian conducting a live chat on altmetrics just last week.

One of the more prominent services is Total-Impact, which Jason Priem and Heather Piwowar have developed. In April, they were awarded a $125,000 grant to further develop the application and have just launched ImpactStory (more on that next week). Priem, who wrote the altmetrics manifesto, welcomed the appearance of Plum Analytics. “Looks to me like they’d be pretty direct competitors with Total-Impact and altmetric.com, albeit with some features they’ll hope to differentiate themselves with. I think that’s awesome,” Priem said. “More players in this space is, in some ways, better for all of us…a rising altmetrics tide floats all boats.” He pointed out that there was enough money in the citation space to keep Scopus, ISI, and Google Scholar all running, and said the same would probably prove true for altmetrics.

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