Understanding the Limits of Altmetrics: Slideshare Statistics

About AltMetrics

Cricketers like statistics, as we know from the long-standing popularity of Wisden, the cricketing almanack which was first published in 1854. Researchers have similar interests with, in many cases, their profession reputation being strongly influenced by statistics. For researchers the importance of citation data is now being complemented by a new range of metrics which are felt to be more relevant to today’s fat-moving digital environment, which are know as altmetrics. The altmetrics manifesto explains how:

Peer-review has served scholarship well, but is beginning to show its age. It is slow, encourages conventionality, and fails to hold reviewers accountable. 

and goes on to describe how:

Altmetrics expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact. 

However the manifesto concludes with a note of caution:

Researchers must ask if altmetrics really reflect impact, or just empty buzz. Work should correlate between altmetrics and existing measures, predict citations from altmetrics, and compare altmetrics with expert evaluation. Application designers should continue to build systems to display altmetrics,  develop methods to detect and repair gaming, and create metrics for use and reuse of data. Ultimately, our tools should use the rich semantic data from altmetrics to ask “how and why?” as well as “how many?”

Altmetrics are in their early stages; many questions are unanswered. But given the crisis facing existing filters and the rapid evolution of scholarly communication, the speed, richness, and breadth of altmetrics make them worth investing in.

As I described in a post on “What Can Web Accessibility Metrics Learn From Alt.Metrics?” there can be a danger in uncritical acceptance of metrics. I therefore welcome this recognition of the need to explore the approaches which are currently being developed. In particular I am looking forward to the sessions on Altmetrics beyond the Numbers and Assessing social media impact which will be held at the Spot On London 2012 conference to be held in London on 11-12 November.  In a blog post entitled Altmetrics everywhere – but what are we missing? #solo12impact Alan Cann touches on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the well-known social analytics tools:

It astounds me that Klout continues to attract so much attention when it has been so thoroughly discredited – Gink is a more useful tool in my opinion ;-)

The best of this bunch is probably Kred, which at least has a transparent public algorithm. In reality, the only tool in this class I use is CrowdBooster, which has a number of useful functions.

But beyond Twitter analytics, what of metrics associated with the delivery of talks about one’s research activities? This is an area of interest to the Altmetrics community as can be seen from the development of the Impactstory service which “aggregates altmetrics: diverse impacts from your articles, datasets, blog posts, and more“. As described in the FAQ:

The system aggregates impact data from many sources and displays it in a single report, which is given a permaurl for dissemination and can be updated any time.

The service is intended for:

  • researchers who want to know how many times their work has been downloaded, bookmarked, and blogged
  • research groups who want to look at the broad impact of their work and see what has demonstrated interest
  • funders who want to see what sort of impact they may be missing when only considering citations to papers
  • repositories who want to report on how their research artifacts are being discussed
  • all of us who believe that people should be rewarded when their work (no matter what the format) makes a positive impact (no matter what the venue). Aggregating evidence of impact will facilitate appropriate rewards, thereby encouraging additional openness of useful forms of research output.

In addition to analysis of published articles, datasets, Web sites and software the service also aggregates slides hosted on Slideshare.

Metrics for Slideshare

Metrics for Slide Usage at Events

In May 2011 a post entitled Evidence of Slideshare’s Impact summarised use of slides hosted on Slideshare for talks which have been presented at UKOLN’s IWMW events from IWMW 2006 to IWMW 2010.

A year later, following a tweet in which @MattMay asked “Why does everybody ask for slides during/after a presentation? What do you do with them? I’m genuinely curious” I published an updated post on Trends in Slideshare Views for IWMW Events. In the post I suggested the following reasons for why speakers and event organisers may wish to host slides on Slideshare:

  • To enable a remote audience to view slides for a presentation they may be watching on a live video stream, on an audio stream or even simply listening to the tweets (and a provide a slide number on the slides to make it easier for people tweeting to identify the slide being used.
  • To enable the slides to be viewed in conjunction with a video recording of the presentation.
  • To enable my slides to be embedded elsewhere, so that the content can be reused in a blog post or on a web page.
  • To enable the content of the slides to be reused, if it is felt to be useful to others. Note that I provide a Creative Commons licence for the text of my slide, try to provide links to screenshots and give the origin of images which I may have obtained from others.
  • To enable slides to be viewed easily on a mobile device.
  • To provide a commentable facility for the slides.
  • To enable my slides to be related, via tags, to related slideshows.

The usage statistics for talks given at IWMW events in order to demonstrate the interest and accessing such slides in order to encourage speakers and workshop facilitators to make their slides available.  But beyond the motivations for event organisers, what of the individual speaker?

Metrics for Individuals

My interest in metrics for Slideshare date back to December 2010 when I published a post which asked What’s the Value of Using Slideshare? In August 2010  Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) tweeted that:

Ironically there were 15 people in my audience for this Web 3.0 slideshow but >12,000 people have since viewed it http://bit.ly/cPfjjP

As can be seen, there have now been over 58,000 views of Steve’s slides on Web 3.0: The Way Forward?

In light of Steve’s experiences and the growing relevance of metrics for Slideshare suggested by the development of the Impactstory service, where a paper by myself, Martyn Cooper, David Sloan and Sarah Lewthwaite on “A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Putting People and Processes First” was accepted for the W4A 2012 conference earlier this year the co-authors agreed to ensure that our professional networks were made aware of the paper and the accompanying slides in order to maximise the numbers of downloads which, we hoped, would increase the numbers of citations in the future,  but also facilitate discussion around the ideas presented in the paper.

We monitored usage statistics for the slides and found that during the week of the conference there had been 1,391 views, compared with 3 and 351 views for other slides which used the #W4A2012 conference hashtag.  To date, as illustrated, there have been 7,603 views.

I used this example in a talk on Using Social Media to Promote ‘Good News’  which I gave at a one-day event organised by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) which took place at the same time as the W4A 2012 conference. I was therefore able to observe how interest in the slides developed, which included use of the Topsy service. This service highlighted the following tweets:

stcaccess STC AccessAbilitySIG Influential
Enjoyed “Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics & Guidelines” slides from @sloandr & Co. http://t.co/XOoQNnlo #w4a12 #a11y #metrics
04/17/2012 Reply Retweet Favorite 7 similar tweets
nethermind Elle Waters
We need more of this = #W4A slides by @martyncooper @briankelly @sloandr @slewth – Learner analytics & #a11y metrics: http://t.co/GHHfhLcv
04/19/2012 Reply Retweet Favorite 2 similar tweets
crpdisabilities Bill Shackleton Influential
A Challenge to Web #Accessibility Metrics & Guidelines: Putting People & Processes First #A11y #Presentation http://t.co/fehzsbDR
04/16/2012 Reply Retweet Favorite 2 similar tweets

I’ve used this example to illustrate how analysis of use of Twitter at conferences can help to see how people are engaging with talks. In this example the Twitter IDs STCAccess and CRPDisabilities indicated that those working in accessibility were engaging without paper and spreading the ideas across their networks.

Do the Numbers Add Up?

In a series of talks given during Open Access 2012 week I described the importance of social media in raising the visibility of research papers, including papers hosted on institutional repositories. However when I examined the statistics in more detail I realised that the numbers didn’t add up. According to Slideshare there have been 2,881 views of the slides from the post on A Challenge to Web Accessibility Metrics and Guidelines: Enhancing Access to Slides in which they had been embedded.However, as shown, there have only been 472 views of the blog post itself. Strange!

I subsequently realised that a Slideshare view will be recorded when the post is accessed, even if the individual slides are not viewed. And since the blog post will continue to be shown on the blog’s home page (ukwebfocus.wordpress.com) until 30 subsequent posts have been published, each time someone visited the home page between the 19 April (when the post was published) and 5 July 2012 (30 posts later) this would have seemingly have registered as a view of the slides- even though most users will not have scrolled down and seen even the title slide!
What, then, do Slideshare usage statistics tell us? Clearly if the slides have been embedded in a blog they don’t tell us how many people have viewed the slides – although if slides are not embedded elsewhere or have been embedded in a static Web page they may provide more indicative statistics. If the slides have been embedded in blog posts or other curated environments this might give an indication of the popularity of the containing blog or similar environment. In Steve Wheeler’s case the popularity of his slides provide evidence of the popularity of Steve’s Learning with E’s’ blog, the Damn Digital Chinese language blog, the Building e-Capability blog and the Scoop.it and paper.li curation services – together with a spam farm.

Lies, Damned Lies and Altmetrics?

Where does this leave services such as Impactstory? Looking at the Impactstory findings for my resources I can see that the slides for on a paper on “Accessibility 2.0: People, Policies and Processes” seem to be the most highly-ranked, with 73 downloads and 2,989 views.

But how many of those views were views of the slides, rather than the containing resources? And how many views way have taken as the result of views from a spam farm?

I don’t have answers to these questions or the bigger question of “Will the value of Altmetrics be undermined by the complex ways in which resources may be reused, misused or the systems gamed?

This is a question I hope will be addressed at the Spot On London 2012 conference.

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]


  1. I’ve pondered the pointlessness of Slideshare stats a couple of times – way back when I think I thought they might be interesting, till I started to suspect they didn’t relate to “click” activations of deck, but rather represented the number of times the presentation container was rendered in page).

    In WordPress, you could limit frontpage view false positive counts by displaying the embedded post below a “more” divider – http://en.support.wordpress.com/splitting-content/more-tag/ ?

  2. Note I alerted the @ImpactStory twitter account to this post. They responded to the tweet “Any thoughts on flaws in Slideshare stats reported by ImpactStory as described in post at: http://t.co/1aQNcG9V” with the following comments:

    good q! 1) nice detective work :) as #altmetrics become more popular, more of these gotchas will hopefully be spotted as well
    2) for clarity’s sake: we don’t decide how to count things; we just query external APIs. so if they’ve got errors, we show ’em.
    3) this is why “favorites,” “saves” etc often better than “views” of slides, articles, whatever…denotes actual engagement.

    Many thanks for the response.

  3. Hi guys, I use slideshare stats a lot, if sceptically, and also use the read “more” strategy in WordPress that Tony talks about; makes you think of where you can use the fold tempting to readers. As a naive user I find slideshare stats very useful. As I am more of a soclal media intellectual than an institutional one any kind of feedback is helpful, especially given that many more people lurk or read, rather than engage or debate online. I have some rough rule of thumbs that I apply. Any slides that get over 2,000 views have some quality, anything over 4,000 definitely have real quality. People generally read more of slides designed to be read online than a bunch of bullet points that need explicating, as Martin Weller points out in his comment on how slideshare slides have improved as we have got the hang of them.
    My better slideshares (like Craft of Teaching) have been designed to be used by others in contexts that they define. I have a real problem with the concept of OER which I think are content-push traps into traditional education delivery models, so I am not a fan of, say, MIT OCW, (or the OU for that matter) which merely allows a sly shadow to fall onto the traditional MIT Ed programmes, which is about re-inforcing traditional values and priviledge. My view of OERs is that they should be “designed for appropriation” which is what I think I achieve in the “better” slides, the stats give me some kind of feedback on if I have achieved that (downloads probably being the best measure)
    Like Steve Wheeler I have some odd and interesting stats, Education Innovation had been read online 2000 times before they were used in the workshop (which had only 20 people attending) they were written for, just 4 days later. The most popular slideshare (Craft of Teaching) has never been used in real life, and we try to do an online version of “good” presentations so that they have a consistency of their own, I Am Curious Digital being the latest, and can be used by others in their context. As ever my/our slides are 3 times more popular in the USA than in the UK, but “echo chamber” presentations (#socialmedia is good) seem to be appreciated more than challenging ones – I Am Disruptive We Are Digital much more popular than Curious Digital.
    So! Such stats as I get I use as a rough guide – my summative position (a la Jacob Nielsen) is that any info is better than none, but you only get crude feedback – very big numbers generally mean “good” slides.

  4. Hi Fred
    Many thanks for the comments.
    I agree with you that such usage statistics can provide a rough guide which can be useful in providing feedback.
    However I don;’t agree with Tony’s suggestion for use of a More interface – this causes real aggravation for people who wish to be able to process a full post on a mobile device.

  5. Brian, I dont find the “more” on WordPress a problem on mobs as I tweet the link to the whole page of the post, whereas if you find the website at random and then decide to read a full article the “continue reading” prompt is clear and easy. I have just tested it on my iPhone and it worked fine, maybe mob interfaces have improved? But a very useful post, thanks!

  6. Hi Fred
    Use of the More interface on a blog limits the content which is available to RSS readers. I read a lot of blogs on an offline RSS reader on my mobile device. If the full content is not available, I am unlikely to see it.
    Twitter isn’t the only way of finding blog posts :-)



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