May 23, 2016

Advantages & Limitations

Advantages to using altmetrics

Altmetrics have a number of advantages over citation-based metrics:

  • Altmetrics are (near) instant: By virtue of being sourced from the Web and not from journals and books, it’s possible to monitor and collate mentions of work online as soon as it’s published. Many types of altmetrics are updated on a daily basis.
  • Altmetrics can uncover more diverse attention than citation-based metrics: Altmetrics can complement citations in that they help you to understand the many ‘flavours’ of attention and impact research can have.
  • Altmetrics apply to more than journal articles and books: Researchers are sharing their data, software, presentations, and other scholarly outputs online more than ever before. That means we can track their use on the Web as easily as we can for articles and books.


There are a number of limitations to the use of altmetrics:

  • Altmetrics don’t tell the whole story: As described above, altmetrics are a complement to, not a replacement for, things like informed peer review and citation-based metrics. Think of altmetrics as just one tool of many you’ve got in your toolbox for understanding the many types of attention that research receives.
  • Like with any metric, there’s a potential for gaming: Anyone with enough time on their hands can artificially inflate the altmetrics for their research. That’s why altmetrics providers like Altmetric, PLOS and SSRN have measures in place to identify and correct for gaming. Don’t forget to look at the underlying qualitative data to see who has been talking about the research, and what they’ve been saying.
  • Altmetrics are relatively new, more research into their use is needed: Though we’re learning a lot about how often research is shared online, we don’t yet know a lot about why it happens–more research is needed. Until we know more, use and interpret altmetrics carefully.