The recent release of a National Information Standards Organization (NISO) white paper on altmetrics marks a turning point in the development of these research impact measurement tools. The fact that consideration is being given to develop some standards for altmetrics means that they are moving closer to being an accepted part of the academic and publishing landscape. The press release announcing the release of the white paper is available here, and the paper itself is here.
Some of the recommendations in the white paper include developing a definition of alternative metrics, identifying the types of research outputs that are most suitable to have metrics applied to them, and identifying the role of alternative metrics in research evaluation. Although I can see the merit in developing standards around the use of altmetrics, I’m a little concerned that the standards may become too prescriptive and limit the usefulness of altmetrics. Part of the appeal of altmetrics is that they can be used to describe a wide range of research outputs, so introducing definitions of what is and what isn’t an altmetric may limit their growth.
The white paper also notes that awareness of altmetrics is still low amongst researchers, and I think this is something that librarians can help to address. If we are approached by a researcher who has questions about measuring research impact, we should mention altmetric tools such as ImpactStory, as well as the traditional measures of impact such as citation counts. This is probably most relevant for librarians who work with researchers in the social sciences and humanities, who are not well-served by traditional metrics, but may find that there are suitable altmetrics available for their research outputs.
It will be interesting to see the final version of this report, and the standards that come out of it.