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Tracking scholarly impact on the social web: altmetrics

4 Nov, 11 | by BMJ

Tim Berners-Lee created the Web as a scholarly communication tool but some argue that the Web has revolutionised everything but scholarly communication. One of the major adherents of this view is Jason Priem, co-founder of the altmetrics project, whose website states:

In the 17th century, scholar-publishers created the first scientific journals, revolutionising the communication and practice of scholarship. Today, we’re at the beginning of a second revolution, as academia slowly awakens to the transformative potential of the Web.

In growing numbers, scholars are moving their daily work to the Internet. Online reference managers, such as Zotero and Mendeley, have grown in popularity, the latter claiming to store over 120 million articles (substantially more than PubMed). As many as a third of scholars are on Twitter and a growing number cultivate scholarly blogs.

As a result of the increasing scholarly use of Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, CiteULike, Mendeley and article commenting, there is a need to track scholarly impact on the social web by creating new filters. The call for new metrics has been answered by a group of researchers who have dubbed the movement as  “scientometrics 2.0” or “altmetrics”.

The aim of the altmetrics group is to discuss new approaches to the assessment of scholarly impact based on new metrics. altmetrics go beyond traditional citation-based indicators as well as raw usage factors (such as downloads or click-through rates) in that they focus on readership, diffusion and reuse indicators that can be tracked via blogs, social media, peer production systems, collaborative annotation tools (including social bookmarking and reference management services).

Below are some of the tools that have been developed thus far, including the Altmetric OpenSocial app which recently won Elsevier’s ‘Apps for Science’ competition.


ReaderMeter is an application showcasing the potential of readership data obtained from reference management tools. The creator decided to see what could be built on top of the data exposed by Mendeley and came up with a mashup aggregating author-level readership statistics based on the number of bookmarks scored by each of one’s publications. ReaderMeter generates a report with several metrics that attempt to quantify the relative impact of an author’s scientific production based on its consumption by a population of readers.

Altmetric tracks tens of thousands of article mentions a month across Twitter, the scientific blogosphere and publishers including The Guardian, the NYT and New Scientist. It assigns scientific papers a score derived from this data. Around 10 – 15% of all new papers added to PubMed each month are covered (Altmetric covers articles not found in PubMed too).

The Altmetric app is live on Elsevier’s Sciverse Hub, try it out for free if you have institutional access.

Total Impact

Total-Impact offers a quick and easy view of the impact of research output. It goes beyond traditional measurements of research output to embrace a much broader evidence of use across a wide range of scholarly output types. The system aggregates impact data from many sources and displays it in a single report, which is given a perma-URL for sharing and can be updated at any time.


CitedIn locates exactly where authors have been cited on the Web. Some papers may have been mentioned in unexpected places like blogs, databases and Wikipedia and Citedin finds them all. Through the website you can track various resources by citing a PubMed Identifier.

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