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For stakeholders interested in the broad influence of scholarly outputs, altmetrics may offer insight by calculating an output's reach, social relevance, and attention from a given community, which may include members of the public sphere (Outputs of the NISO Alternative Assessment Metrics Project, section 1).
While traditional bibliometrics measure research impact using citation counts in academic journals, altmetrics aim to measure the impact of scholarly research based on a variety of different factors, including:
Citations in government reports
Social media mentions
Mainstream media coverage
The following video from Altmetric.com provides a good introduction to altmetrics:
Altmetrics capture elements of societal impact: Altmetric data can help researchers understand how their work is being interacted with by the public, government, policy makers, and other researchers.
Altmetrics complement traditional metrics: Working from a basket of measures helps to achieve a more complete picture of research impact.
Altmetric data accumulates at a faster speed compared to traditional metrics: In disciplines where citations grow slowly, or in the context of new researchers, this speed helps determine which outputs are gaining online attention.
Altmetrics have an open access advantage: Altmetric providers retrieve their data from open sources, which makes the data more replicable than data in proprietary databases.
Known disadvantages to using altmetric data:
Altmetric data is not normalized:No standards exist for the delivery of altmetric data and as a result, comparing between sources is not advised.
Almetrics are time-dependent:Since altmetric data providers and their sources, are still relatively new (typically 2011-current), altmetric data is often irrelevant to older publications.
Altmetrics have known tracking issues:Altmetric data providers rely on stable identifiers to track scholarly outputs, yet not all outputs have identifiers. Further, some existing identifiers are relatively new, such as the digital object identifieir (DOI).