Altmetrics as a discovery tool

by Karthik Ram. Average Reading Time: almost 2 minutes.

Altmetrics is all the rage these days in the scientometrics world. One rationale for developing these metrics has been to quantify the entire range of academic output beyond publications to include everything from datasets and code to presentations. The idea is that these metrics would one day be used in tenure committees (and tenure track applications?) to get a more complete picture of a researcher’s contributions. As much as I love the idea (since I do so much more than write papers) and the people behind these efforts, I honestly don’t think these metrics will have any impact on folks currently in the academic trenches (pre-tenure faculty and postdocs on the job market). But I’d love to be proven wrong here.

However, I do think altmetrics are a terrific discovery tool. I was recently approached with an idea for a collaboration (yes, yes I know my plate currently overfloweth but this would be several months down the line) on an emerging research topic. I was given a few of hot off the press articles as starting points to get my feet wet. When getting into new topics, I usually pull up some highly cited articles, look at reverse citations on Web of Science and go from there. This is somewhat harder to do for research that is really really new. In this case, without a second thought (probably because I hang around the altmetrics community a good bit and also develop some tools on that front), I popped the articles I had into ImpactStory and Altmetric and boom! pay dirt.

Both altmetrics providers led me to some really insightful blogs (not currently on my reading list) that gave me a lot more context about how the topic emerged and where it is likely headed. I also found Tweeps (in this case scientists on Twitter) who are working on this topic. A quick look through their lab pages and recent pubs and I have a pretty good sense of what this is all about. All over the course of a few hours. Doing the same thing a few years ago would have been impossible.

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