Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Usage-based measurements of journal quality

(Via Nautilus) The UK Serials Group (UKSG) and the online usage metrics organization COUNTER are exploring the possibility of using online statistics as a metric to determine the impact of a journal. There is a user survey for anyone interested in giving their opinion on the subject. The survey aims to:
* Discover what you think about the measures that are currently used to assess the value of scholarly journals (notably impact factors)
* Gauge the potential for usage-based measures
* Provide an opportunity for you to suggest possible different, additional measures.

As a blogger I am used to the idea of tracking readership statistics. I was curious to have a look at how this statistics are tracked by the journals so I had a better look at this COUNTER initiative. According to the about page:
"Launched in March 2002, COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources) is an international initiative designed to serve librarians, publishers and intermediaries by facilitating the recording and exchange of online usage statistics."

If I understood the project, COUNTER aims to define standards for tracking of web statistics, to serve as a hub for gathering of this information from the publishers and to provide statistical analysis to interested parties (libraries). The publishers are responsible for gathering the usage data and producing the reports (according to COUNTER standards). In the website there is a list of publishers that are providing this information to the project.

It is possible to certify a publisher as COUNTER compliant by passing in a somewhat convoluted process where a library checks the publishers report for compliance with the standards. I can't help think that there should be more efficient ways of doing this. For bloggers it takes a second to include a few lines of code from one of many free online tracking services (i.e. sitemeter, Google Analytics, Feedburner) in the website, to get instant and free user statistics. In this case, the services have the responsibility to track the users and I have little or no control over the reported data. If online user statistics is to become a measure of journal impact (and I think it should), then I hope COUNTER licenses or creates technology similar to what is powering these services. It should be an independent tracking service providing the results, not the publishers.