The establishment of the Altmetrics term


‘Altmetrics’ has become an increasingly relevant concept both in the context of scientific and scholarly communication, but also in the realm of research evaluation. ‘Altmetrics’ – alternative metrics – are non-traditional metrics proposed either as a completely different or in some cases a complementary solution to more traditional citation based impact metrics of research, such as impact factor and h-index. But how and when did the term emerge?

Altmetrics has had some predecessor in the early days of the internet. In the late 90s and early 00s, there have already been some attempts to introduce new measures and motivations to utilize the web as a source for analysis and monitoring of scholarly activity. But it was not until 2010, when the term ‘Altmetrics’ has been introduced by the information scientist Jason Priem, by claiming that he would prefer the term over other terms since it implies ‘a diversity of measures (of scholarly communication)’. Priem was particularly concerned with how the internet could not only transform measures but scholarly communication as a whole.

Shortly after he coined the term in 2010, Priem together with his colleagues published a manifesto in which an understanding of Altmetrics has been proposed which expressed his understanding of web based scholarly communication and influenced the Altmetrics community sustainably: “That dog-eared (but uncited) article that used to live in a shelf now lives in Mendeley, CiteUlike, or Zotero – where we can see and count it. That hallway conversation about a recent finding has moved to blogs and social networks – now, we can listen in (…). This diverse group of activities forms a composite trace of impact far richer than any available before. We call the elements of this trace Altmetrics”, to cite Priem.

Since 2010, the literature on Altmetrics has grown enormously and the term has been adopted by many different scientific and non-scientific communities. Starting in open access journals such as PloS One and PloS Biology, the topic has soon been taken up by the informetric and scientometric community. In addition, we observe that after 2010 there is a surge of scientific articles, which covers approximately the 82% of all articles related to Altmetrics being published since 1990! Given its heterogeneity, the Altmetrics narrative has also flourished among different policy and scientific communities, among which bibliometrics, information science, science communication, and library science are most important. In recent years, a number of Altmetrics providers appeared (such as Impactstory 2011, 2011, and Plum Analytics 2011), which have been influencing this movement significantly.

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Picture: The original logotype from the Altmetrics Manifesto

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