Plum Analytics: "kind of like Nielson ratings" for academic research launches Alpha - Technical.ly Philly

Mar. 14, 2012 10:30 am

Plum Analytics: “kind of like Nielson ratings” for academic research launches Alpha

You may not realize this, but it can take roughly seven years for an academic researcher to receive any professional recognition for her work. That print publishing lag, says Andrea Michalek, is why she and cofounder Mike Buschman are launching Plum Analytics, a research directory that measures the impact of online and print research. “If […]

You may not realize this, but it can take roughly seven years for an academic researcher to receive any professional recognition for her work.

That print publishing lag, says Andrea Michalek, is why she and cofounder Mike Buschman are launching Plum Analytics, a research directory that measures the impact of online and print research.

“If you think of how scholarly impact has been measured, how professors and researchers get tenure, it’s that ‘publish or perish’ mentality,” Michalek said. “But the problem is all of that was built on the pace of paper publishing. And the world now moves at a much faster pace than things getting printed in paper journals.”

Michalek, who lives in Dresher, in Pennsylvania’s suburban Montgomery County, will be live demo-ing Plum Analytics at tonight’s Philly Tech Meetup and launching the site in alpha, but the site won’t be open to public use just yet. To start, Michalek and Buschman are looking to partner with universities, building out the site by tracking entire research departments.

“We’re really going and looking for universities who want to be development partners with us,” said Michalek. “Who want to take it from alpha to beta which will be launched in the summer.”

The goal, Michalek says, is to know who is doing the most cutting edge research while they’re working on it, not years after it’s been done. She believes academic libraries are Plum’s primary market.

“We’re measuring both research and the researchers who create it. That’s at the heart of what were doing,” said Michalek. “It’s kind of like Nielson ratings or, God forbid, the Klout of scholarly data.”

Michalek agreed to demonstrate the alpha version of Plum Analytics for Technically Philly. Here’s how it works.

An academic can log in from one of a selection of social media accounts or simply create a profile. They then input links to all of the locations where they have an academic presence on the web, be it a journal, Twitter, GitHub, Google+, etc. Plum Analytics will pull all of the interactions with those publications into its analysis and spit out two main types of “scholarly reputation” pie charts.

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The first shows the type of content the academic has published, such as papers, slideshow, tweets or blog posts. The second visualizes the impact of all that content, by analyzing how many responses or link backs each particular content item has received.

The graphs look like this:

Michalek says these graphs will be public so the academic, as well as anyone interested in her work, can see the scope and depth of influence she is having on her field, in pretty close to real time.

If all of this sounds ambitious but very early in its planning, that’s because it is. Michalek and Buschman founded the company on January 25, 2012. They chose the name just a month before.

“We really liked the idea of a fruit,” said Michalek. “Something that gave you a color and had good positive connotations — so like, plum job, plum idea. We also liked the thought of data being juicy. All those things that a plum could be.”

Although Michalek lives in the Philadelphia region, Buschman lives out in Seattle. Building the company virtually has come naturally to them, says Michalek, because the two met while virtually leading the development of Summon, an online search engine for libraries.

“I oversaw tech and Mike oversaw product,” said Michalek. “In about three-and-a-half years we went form the business plan to a $15 million business.”

Their remote work together on Summon played an important role in inspiring Plum Analytics because they could really see the trends in academic publishing and reputation building, Michalek told Technically Philly.

“What I love to do is be in between people and data,” said Michalek. “That’s kind of what my whole career has been, finding those product niches.”

So far, Michalek and Buschman have been bootstrapping Plum. With an alpha launching tonight, they’ve begun raising money from family and friends and looking around for angel investment. Michalek says that when they can, she’d love to hire a team in Philly and support the community.

“One of the things I decided last year when I knew I wanted to start a company was that I very much wanted to become much more engaged with the Philadelphia tech community,” Michalek said. “That’s when I started going to the Philly tech meetups and trying to help out some of the other groups. I’ve done office hours at DreamIt and Novotorium to help create the kind of tech community we all want to be a part of. I’d love to hire more folks here in Philadephia than abroad.”

You can check out the Plum Analytics splash page now, but if you want to see how it works you’ll have to watch the demo. The beta version isn’t scheduled to be available until this summer.

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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