The number of electronic journals and especially open access journals is increasing. This means that a growing number of people have access to research articles. New areas develope due to the move towards online journals. One of these areas is altmetrics which has a relation to open access.
Altmetrics measures impact on article level and it is seen as an alternative to traditional indicators measuring article level impact. We have written about altmetrics in this blog before. In short altmetrics means that book marks, links, tweets, Facebook-likes, blog posts etc. are used to indicate the impact a publication has. Altmetrics considers what happens in social media and illustrates the on-going discussion a research publication might have caused. Also, altmetrics shows that researchers are moving their work online and web-based services.
There are benefits and drawbacks with altmetrics. Benefits have to do with that all types of publications are regarded, not just the traditional articles published in traditional journals with high journal impact factor. Also, altmetrics is a quicker way to measure research impact. We do not have to wait for two years or more to be able to say something about the paper’s effect. We can see the effect right away in the discussions and tweets. PLOS Article Level Metrics for Researchers lists, among others, the following benefits:
- Researchers can see and collect feedback on dissemination and impact of the research in real time and researchers may share raw data with collaborators, research administrators and research funders
- Trends in research become visible quicker
- Researchers can find potential collaborators based on the interest in the research
- Other interpretations based on research data, methods and results can be discovered
- Strategies to disseminate and publish research can be followed up and evaluated
- Research results are evaluated according to their content, not according to “container” (published journal) that has been used.
The drawback is that we do not have a clear understanding what the numbers mean. Do they show real impact and dissemination or just a buzz that research results have been able to create?
Another drawback is that the number can be seen as a popularity contest which may lead to manipulation of the numbers. Altmetrics is not subjected to more manipulation than other biblimoteric indicators are. They can also be manipulated. When this happens the numbers lose their value.
As said in the beginning, there is a connection between altmetrics and open access. There are studies which show that scientific articles published open access increases downloading and therefore dissemination of them and therefore altmetrics is an interesting measurement. JSTOR has recorded 150 million attempts to get access to articles they have only toll access to. Yearly. This means that there are articles which do not have the impact that they could have because potential readers do not have access to the articles. There is a citation bias to articles which are freely available and this corresponds with altmetrics. The ten most popular articles 2012 according to altmetrics.com show that seven of them where open access and none of them were published by Nature or Science.
Altmetrics has made us think about the definition of impact. Impact is still, at least in the open access context, unexplored and underdeveloped. One should keep in mind that altmetrics can be used in some social spheres where openness and open standards are used. This suits open access well and not so well the traditional publishing model.
 Davis, P. M., Lewenstein, B. V., Simon, D. H., Booth, J. G., & Connolly, M. J. L. (2008). Open access publishing, article downloads, and citations: Randomised controlled trial. BMJ 337:a568.
 Howard, J. (2012). JSTOR tests free, read-only access to some articles. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Wired Campus. [2012-01-13]