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Linda Willems | Senior Researcher Communications Manager, Elsevier

The academic community has traditionally looked to citation analysis to measure the impact of scientific and medical research. But with journal articles increasingly disseminated via online news and social media channels, new measures are coming to the fore.

Alternative metrics – or altmetrics – represent one of the innovative ways the reach of articles is now being assessed, and Elsevier has just launched two pilots featuring the highly-recognizable altmetric "donut."

An example of the pilot altmetric pod on the homepage of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

The first pilot will feature donuts for a journal's top three rated articles displayed on the homepages of 33 Elsevier titles.

This rating is based on a social media traffic score given by; an article must have received at least one social media mention within the last six months to qualify. By clicking on the "view all" option beneath this list, visitors can review altmetric donuts for the top 10 articles.

In both lists, the article name links to the full-text article on ScienceDirect, while the donut links to a breakdown of the news and social media mentions.

Hans Zijlstra

Hans Zijlstra

The pilot is led by Hans Zijlstra, Project Manager for Elsevier's STM Journals Project Management department. He said his team will be closely monitoring how much traffic the donuts receive over the coming six months, and depending on up-take, their aim is to make this available to all Elsevier journals.

They are still working on adding to the journal homepage the names of the authors for the top ranked articles. In addition, they plan to include the donuts for participating health and medical titles on their homepages on the Health Advance platform. 

A parallel altmetric pilot for 25 journals will run on ScienceDirect, Elsevier's scientific database of journal articles and book chapters. The ScienceDirect pilot will have a greater focus on medical journals but there will be some overlap in titles between the two trials.

For some time now, Scopus, Elsevier's abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, has been offering donuts on articles for which the relevant metrics are available.

"These additional article metrics are intended to provide authors with extra insight into the various flavors of impact their research may achieve," Zijlstra said. "We believe altmetrics will help them select a journal for article submission by giving a clearer indication of where a journal's strengths and weaknesses lie."

ElsevierConnectLogo_smallThis article first appeared in Elsevier Connect, an online magazine and resource center for the science and health communities with a broad and active social media community. It features daily articles written by experts in the field as well as Elsevier colleagues.

What are altmetrics?


An example of the altmetric donut

The altmetric algorithm computes an overall score taking into account the number of mentions the article receives and the importance of the sources. For example, news is weighted more than blogs, and blogs are weighted more than tweets. It also factors in the authoritativeness of the authors, so a mention by an expert in the field is worth more than a mention by a lay person. The visual representation — the altmetric donut — shows the proportional distribution of mentions by source type. Each source type displays a different color – blue for Twitter, yellow for blogs, and red for mainstream media sources. Links to the source data are also available.

Euan Adie

Euan Adie

The most famous traditional metric, the Impact Factor, averages how often a journal is cited against the number of scholarly articles published in that journal. However, citations can take years to accrue.

One of the advantages of altmetrics is that the impact begins to be assessed from the moment the article is first posted online.

The pilot Altmetric pod for journal homepages has been developed by Elsevier's e-marketing team in cooperation with — a company founded by Euan Adie (@Stew), who won Elsevier's Apps for Science Challenge in 2011.

Download the Altmetric Bookmarklet

For further details on the social media reports, and to see the score for any article containing a DOI, download the Altmetric Bookmarklet from

Journals in the altmetric pilot

American Journal of Medicine
Applied Catalysis B: Environmental
Biological Conservation
Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters
Journal of Archaeological Science
Computers In Human Behavior
Energy Policy
Evolution and Human Behavior
Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta
Earth and Planetary Science Letters (EPSL)
International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Journal Of Econometrics
Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology
Marine Policy
Public Relations Review
Science of the Total Environment
Social Science & Medicine
Acta Astronautica
European Journal of Cancer
World Neurosurgery
Computers & Education
Journal of Hazardous Materials
Journal of Catalysis
Food Quality and Preference
NeuroImage: Clinical
International Journal of Surgery Case Reports
American Heart Journal