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Acquisition opens up altmetrics options

It is nearly a year since EBSCO bought Plum Analytics. Sian Harris asks what has happened since the acquisition and what it means for the role of altmetrics in analysing research

In January, two years after it was founded, the alternative metrics start-up Plum Analytics was bought by EBSCO. The aim, as Plum Analytics co-founder and president Andrea Michalek said at the time, was to bring together two companies that work with the research community. 

At the time, she explained: ‘Teaming up with the leading content and analysis provider for libraries and scholarly publishers to move to a new era of scholarly impact metrics helps us take the power of PlumX to the next level and realise new ways of assessing and analysing research. With EBSCO’s deep content assets and usage data, this is a natural enhancement to the data that PlumX collects around research.’

So has happened since the acquisition? Michalek said: ‘One of the most important things we’ve been able to accomplish since the acquisition is integrating the raw EBSCO usage data into the PlumX dashboard. The PlumX and EBSCO engineers worked together to make this happen quickly. This marks the first time the wealth of information about the actual usage per article or book, such as abstract views, downloads, etc. can be measured across publishers. While we recognise that this does not represent all usage, it is a good proxy, and it gives you more usable information about articles and books.’

She said the move has excited customers, quoting Alain Dussert, director of library services at Pacifica Graduate Institute in the USA: ‘Wow, bringing in EBSCO usage stats is an impressive development. Being able to see EBSCO “hits” by author is going to bring tremendous amounts of relevant scholarly data to PlumX.’

Michalek is excited about the potential of altmetrics. ‘The data we supply helps funding agencies better understand what happens to their research grants. Recently, Autism Speaks, which funds autism research, adopted PlumX so it can have visibility into the research output created from its grants, and the impact of that research.

‘Since it can take three to five years for research articles to be cited, citations are not always a useful measure to use in grant applications. The data from PlumX shows early adoption of research, especially when people capture the research for later use, such as what they do in reference management systems. Additionally, the impact metrics for datasets and other research outputs that pre-date an article are valuable long before the research article is published and referenced. These mechanisms are beneficial in writing new research grant applications.

‘Researchers often ask for impact information. Once researchers have visibility into who is interacting with their research and what they are saying, they are enlightened to larger opportunities for research collaboration. To date, the only thing to give them were the journal impact factor of the journals in which they publish, and citation counts. Now, liaison librarians and others can give them a much broader view of what is happening with their research, help them decide where to publish, give them the impact for the open-access version of their articles, and more.

‘The data we supply helps publishers too. Publishers are becoming more service-oriented to the researchers who publish with them. A PlumX Plum Print widget is a good way to show researchers what is happening with their research. Also, because the PlumX dashboard allows you to see metrics at any level, not just the article level, publishers can use the information to help them manage their publications. For example, they can use PlumX to compare one journal to another or one issue to another within a publication.’

She said there is plenty more to do. ‘To this point, we have worked hard on gathering as many metrics about as many research outputs as we could. Now we are moving beyond gathering and organising this information, and are creating ways to make it simpler to gain insight from this raw material in the forms of reports and other mechanisms,’ she noted.

However, she added that the company is also expanding the depth and breadth of the metrics gathered. Plum Analytics has recently added metrics from Goodreads, the largest site for readers and book recommendations, which, in addition to popular literature, includes academic books – especially in humanities and social sciences.

‘We think that the term “altmetrics” will disappear as these impact metrics move from alternative to mainstream. While this happens, there will be a growth of metrics from merely social media and “buzz” about articles to an encompassing of all the impact about research outputs or artifacts. This is already happening with PlumX since we gather usage and citations as well as traditional altmetrics. Cross-functionality will become the norm, as everyone needs to work together to advance research,’ she predicted.

‘People will want more metrics and more timely metrics. Everyone involved with research will use them to help drive the conversations about research sooner. People will use them because if they do not, they will not be aware about what is happening in their research field and will be blocked out of future projects and collaborations.

‘In January 2012 altmetrics was little more than a Twitter hashtag. Today, the field has grown up, and institutions are using these metrics for valuable information and decision-making,’ she said. ‘We are just scratching the surface. The future is bright and broad.’