Why a NISO effort to standardise AltMetrics?
June 22, 2013
As has now been widely reported, NISO have a $200K grant from the Alfred P Sloan Foundation to develop standards for AltMetrics.
If there’s one consistent lesson from standardisation processes, it’s that standards which codify existing practice do well, while those that try to invent new practice in the form of a standard do badly. The various new facilities introduced into C++ by well-meaning standards people are a classic example of non-standard standards that no-one uses.
So I fear that trying to build standards around AltMetrics may well be premature. The thing that would be worth doing is codifying a standard XML format in which to express AltMetrics. But that’s something for a few practitioners to do in an couple of days. not something to spend $200k on.
I’ve been involved with enough standards to have a pretty good idea what goes into them. I’ve also been involved with drafting a fair few informal specifications that are used in the same way standards are. At this point, the latter (much, much more lightweight) process seems far more appropriate than the full lumbering machinery of a formal standards committee.
The bottom line is that there is nothing to standardise yet. We need several years of actual experience before we’re at the point where formal standardisation is anything more than an expensive waste of valuable people’s time.
Finally: you can just bet that the working groups will be dominated by the kinds of corporations that (A) can afford to fund staff to invest significant time in such efforts, and (B) have no vested interest in any kind of change. So what I see happening here is a committee full of people from IEEE, Elsevier, Emerald and Springer, achieving nothing or actively impeding progress — while a few valiant people who are actually doing altmetrics are effectively distracted from getting on with useful work by banging their heads against the standards-committee wall instead.
Much better to just do the work — for people actually involved in AltMetrics to pool their own experience and insight outside of any controlling formal arrangement — and put together whatever specification documents they find useful, free of the retarding influence of The Usual Suspects.
Once that’s been done, then there will be something to standardise.