Ian Mulvany

November 5, 2022

What will be the effect of Elon Musk on Altmetrics?


(a male tech billionaire wearing a puffer jacket, pouring petrol over a stack of burning library books, photo, life magazine - Dalle)

#blog #twitter #altmetrics #predictions 

Caveat first, there is a lot to unpack with Musk's purchase of twitter. Twitter operates at scale, as individuals it is very hard for us to reason about systems at that scale. What will happen will be beyond the ability of many of us to predict.

That out of the way, a large number of academics in my timeline are either leaving twitter or talking about leaving. 

If that happens and is representative of academics across twitter then the most important Altmetric signal will change substantially. 

When Jason Priem talked about Altmetrics in the before times (before in so so many ways) he described an emerging present and potential future in which our digital trails could create a more complete route to help us understand our academic interactions and downstream impact. A system that would certainly be more responsive and representative of the world than academic citations. (I still believe in this vision). 

This is not what Altmetrics became, due to the types of signals available, the most significant of which was/is twitter. It became a measure of attention. 

Musk’s rapid intervention will lead to changes. 

I can see a few problems that could emerge.

Twitter may change the commercial terms of access to the API, or indeed remove the api. That will make services like Altmetrics from digital science harder (not impossible, but harder) to run. 

What happens if the attention signal flows elsewhere, if most academics on twitter leave? 

Then the signal may evaporate, so even if services measuring it can still work, they may have much less value. 

In the interim, if the twitter brand becomes toxic, and if some attention stays on twitter, having a high Altmetric twitter count could  become a base of shame. 

There could be no change, but I think there will be some. How this affects how we think of Altmetrics will be interesting to see. 

What do you think? 

About Ian Mulvany

Hi, I'm Ian - I work on academic publishing systems. You can find out more about me at mulvany.net. I'm always interested in engaging with folk on these topics, if you have made your way here don't hesitate to reach out if there is anything you want to share, discuss, or ask for help with!