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Introduction to altmetrics

What are altmetrics?

Altmetrics expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact. This matters because expressions of scholarship are becoming more diverse.


Mental Status imageDefined

Altmetrics let us measure and monitor the reach and impact of scholarship and research through online interactions. Altmetrics stands for "alternative metrics." The "alternative" part references traditional measurements of academic success such as citation counts, journal prestige (impact factor), and author H-index. Altmetrics are meant to complement, not totally replace, these traditional measures.

Supporters of the altmetrics movement believe that doing so will give a more complete picture of how research and scholarship is used.

Simply, altmetrics are metrics beyond traditional citations. 

Why they matterGroups image

There is increasing understanding that scholarly research has moved beyond the printed page and that traditional measures of impact are inadequate. Citations are only a small part of the scholarly ecosystem and only represent one type of impact. Other media types of increasing importance such as data, tools, software, websites, videos, etc. produced for or during the research process may be just as, or more, important than the articles that accompany them.

Since most research, including journal articles, are now electronic and networked we can track how many times they are accessed, used, and shared. These numbers provide a more complete picture of the reach and impact of research and scholarship; one that goes beyond citations in peer-reviewed publications.

Active Directory imageHow they work

You probably already know that nearly everything on the internet is tracked. What you click can be used to inform website design, serve targeted adds, or as a simple measure of popularity. Altmetrics uses this ability to track interaction with online items as a way of measuring research impact and reach.

Altmetrics can answer questions such as:

  • How many times was it downloaded?
  • Who is reading my work? (on Mendeley, bookmarking sites, etc.)
  • Was it covered by any news agencies?
  • Are other researchers commenting on it?
  • How many times was it shared? (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Which countries are looking at my research?

Altmetrics by item type

  • Citations: Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed Central, and Google Scholar citations; citations in policy documents
  • Bookmarks: scholarly bookmarks on Mendeley & CiteULike; bookmarks by the public on Delicious & Pinboard; Twitter favorites
  • Discussion: peer reviews on F1000, Publons, and other post-publication peer review websites; Twitter mentions and Facebook wall posts; newspaper articles, videos, and podcasts; mentions on scholarly blog networks like ResearchBlogging
  • Shares: Twitter mentions, Facebook shares
  • Views: Pageview & download statistics from the journal website or repository where you've archived your paper
  • Citations: Web of Science and Scopus citations; Google Book citations
  • WorldCat holdings: the number of libraries worldwide that have purchased your book
  • Views: Pageview & download statistics from your publisher's website or the repository where you've archived your book/chapter.
  • Ratings: and Goodreads ratings
  • Discussion: see "Articles" above
  • Bookmarks: see "Articles" above
  • Citations: Data Citation Index and Google Scholar citations
  • Views: views and downloads from Figshare, Zenodo, Dryad, ICPSR, or other subject or institutional repositories
  • Reuse: GitHub forks
  • Discussion: Figshare comments; also see "Articles" above
  • Bookmarks: see "Articles" above
  • Citations: Google Scholar citations
  • Downloads: download statistics from GitHub, Bitbucket, Sourceforge, or other institutional or subject repository
  • Adaptations: GitHub forks, Bitbucket clones
  • Collaborators: GitHub collaborators
  • Discussion: GitHub gists, mentions on Twitter, Figshare comments
  • Bookmarks, Shares: see "Articles" above
  • Views: views and downloads on Figshare, Zenodo, or other institutional or subject repository
  • Discussion: Figshare comments; seealso "Articles" above
  • Bookmarks, Shares: see "Articles" above
  • Views: views and downloads on Slideshare, Speakerdeck, and Figshare
  • Discussion: Slideshare and Figshare comments; see also "Articles" above
  • Shares: Slideshare embeds on other websites; mentions on Twitter, Facebook shares, LinkedIn shares
  • Likes: Slideshare and Speakerdeck likes
  • Bookmarks: see "Articles" above
  • Views: Youtube, Vimeo, and Figshare views
  • Likes/Dislikes: Youtube likes and dislikes; Vimeo likes
  • Discussion: Youtube, Vimeo, and Figshare comments; see also "Articles" above
  • Shares, Bookmarks: see "Articles" above

Benefits of Altmetrics

social connectionsCapture elements of societal impact
Altmetrics data can inform researchers of elements of the societal impact of their research. For example, altmetrics data can help researchers understand how their research is being interacted with by the public, government, policy makers, and other researchers.

networking mapComplement traditional metrics
Altmetrics provide a wider range of data, from a wider range of sources than traditional metrics. Altmetrics data is also highly nuanced and can be provided in high detail and in the context in which it originates.

rocket ship taking offOffer speed and discoverability
Altmetrics 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.

an open padlockOpen access advantage
Providers like and ImpactStory provide access to their API and source code. Altmetrics providers also pull their data from open sources, who give access to their APIs or raw usage data, which makes altmetrics data more easily replicable than data in proprietary databases.

Considerations for Altmetrics

Altmetrics offer a lot of information. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when using and analyzing altmetrics data. 

checklist​Altmetrics lack a standard definition
The field of altmetrics remains undecided on what altmetrics truly measure. However, the NISO Alternative Assessment Metrics (Altmetrics) Initiative is currently working to create a standard definition of the term and has a draft of its definition open for public comment.

even level bar graphAltmetrics data are not normalized
It is not advised to compare between sources and data sets for altmetrics, as different providers collect different kinds of data. Instead, we suggest using altmetrics to tell a story about your research - see the "Use Cases" tab for more information.  

calendar with a timer​Almetrics are time-dependent
Altmetrics provide information about the use of the work, but much of this use has a lifespan - and that lifespan is unknown. For older works, there may not be much altmetrics activity, but that does not necessarily mean that the work is not heavily used!

many inputs to one document​Altmetrics have known tracking issues
Altmetrics work best with items that have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). PlumX is one provider that can track usage of an item with only a URL, but not all providers provide the same level of tracking for items without DOIs. 

What can Altmetrics do for me?

 four researchers analyzing a document.

  • Explore the impact of your research beyond “traditional” journal-level metrics. See how different audiences—from fellow researchers to middle school students—are engaging with your scholarship on the open web.
  • Show funders the broad reach of an article that was produced from your grant research.
  • Manage your scholarly reputation. Keep abreast of who is talking about your research and what they are saying. Include altmetrics on your CV and professional website.
  • Compare your work to others in your field. Discover what articles at Pitt and other institutions are getting the most attention and work to improve the reach of your own work.

Additional resources


Re-use this guide!

"Altmetrics" from the University Library System, University of Pittsburgh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


The bold gray icons used throughout the guide are from they have their own use/reusage guidelines at