October 30, 2014

EBSCO Acquires Altmetrics Provider Plum Analytics

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EBSCO acquires Plum AnalyticsEBSCO Information Services today announced the acquisition of Plum Analytics, the developer of PlumX, a tool that gives researchers and institutions a more complete view of the impact of their publications by harvesting and aggregating alternative metrics (altmetrics) data in five major categories: usage, captures, mentions, social media, and citations. Plum will continue to offer the same services, with the same management team, operating as a wholly-owned subsidiary of EBSCO. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

In a statement to the press, EBSCO Information Services President Tim Collins described altmetrics as an emerging field with ramifications for a variety of stakeholders.

“PlumX is able to provide a more timely and more thorough picture of the impact of research to researchers, institutions and publishers,” he said. “EBSCO is very excited to be entering what is a new product area for us.” (In a separate statement, EBSCO today announced that Collins will take the reins as CEO of EBSCO, following the retirement of F. Dixon Brooke.)

The backing of EBSCO “allows us to accelerate and do things bigger and faster than we have been,” Plum co-founder and Chief Product Officer Mike Buschman told LJ. “It’s really time for this area—altmetrics—to come of age, and this helps us get to that point.”

This coming of age narrative has been a brief one. Plum Analytics was founded just two years ago, in January 2012, by Buschman and Andrea Michalek, previously the director of product management and director of technology, respectively, for ProQuest’s Summon discovery service. The University of Pittsburgh was the first to adopt the service, and following a pilot test there, the company announced the official launch of PlumX in January 2013. In September 2013, the company partnered with OCLC to factor WorldCat data into its measurements. And in November, PlumX was named Most Ambitious in LJ’s Best Databases 2013.

The field itself isn’t much older. One of its formative texts, “Altmetrics: A Manifesto,” written by ImpactStory founder Jason Priem and others, went online in October 2010.

Plum’s acquisition by EBSCO illustrates how quickly the use of altmetrics has gained traction and built credibility within the academic community. As “Altmetrics: A Manifesto” argued at the field’s inception, citation counting is still a useful way to gauge the impact of an academic article or other publication, but citations alone “are narrow; they neglect impact outside the academy, and also ignore the context and reasons for citation.” They’re also slow—it can take months or even years for an article to receive its first citation.

By contrast, altmetrics tools such as PlumX offer a broader view of a work’s impact, collecting data on how many times an article was mentioned on social media or on blogs by an author’s peers, or how many times it has been downloaded from databases, for example. These tools also enable researchers to understand the impact of work other than published, peer-reviewed articles, such as datasets, source code, videos, presentations, conference proceedings, and more. PlumX alone tracks more than 20 different types of research outputs.

“I’m a young academic at the start of my career, and my sense is that the metrics that are going to matter in the future might not be the ones that have mattered historically, or that in addition to those [historical] metrics, other metrics might matter,” Joel Gehman, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Organization for the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta, told LJ. Gehman has been following the emergence of altmetrics for more than two years, and was one of the earliest testers of PlumX.

“It’s still an emerging market, so exactly what the field is, where its boundaries are, and how it will shake out remains to be seen,” said Gehman. Although altmetrics haven’t led to a sudden revolution in the way academia conducts its internal affairs, Gehman said that altmetrics do seem to be part of a shift in conversation regarding how a researcher’s influence might be assessed.

“We’re still not at a point where these tools are being widely used—to my knowledge—by tenure and promotion committees,” he added. “That’s something that is, perhaps, down the line. But I am aware of more and more conversations regarding those promotion and tenure activities, that are interested in what kinds of impact [scholars] are having not only in the academic community, but in the wider world…. These tools allow us to monitor and assess some of that other impact that our work might have.”

Researchers are already beginning to refine how they view the data that altmetrics tools collect. Buschman noted that couple of years ago, when people were first learning about altmetrics as a concept, some researchers thought that these tools would attempt to quantify the relative value of different metrics—does an article download equal 10 percent of a citation, or is a tweet equal to one-twentieth of a citation, for example?

“A lot of people are now past the ‘altmetrics = tweet impact’ or something like that,” Buschman said. “That was the way people shorthanded it, and it really did [the field] a disservice. It was easy to dismiss…. My article got published in Nature, so I tweet it out. You’re in my network, you retweet it to your network, but have you read it? In many cases, probably not, but you’re my buddy, so you’re trying to help get the word out. It’s a fundamentally different thing than an interaction with the research itself.”

Buschman added that one goal for PlumX going forward is to study whether certain measures, or certain combinations of different measures, are leading indicators of future citations.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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