Redirecting domains

Back in the day, I ran numerous specialist websites. Long-time visitors to Sciencebase may well recall some of them:

The first three of those are currently simply redirecting to Sciencebase itself while Sciscoop is acting as an archive for Chemspy and Sciencetext content. I had hoped to sell on those accounts via the domain registrar, but have decided to offer them to any reader who cares to take them on for a negotiable fee. Please get in touch via [email protected] if you’re interested in acquiring any of those domains.

Here’s how to write a clickable headline without using clickbait

UPDATE: I tested this approach on Sciencebase and another site and have come to the conclusion that such headline writing only matters in terms of click-through rate, that is improved, but initial hits don’t seem to be improved at least in the short term, so whether or not it has a beneficial SEO effect remains to be seen.

Headline writing for newspapers and magazines was always the preserve of the subbies, the sub-editors. A reporter, journalist, columnist or another writer would file their copy, it would be bashed into basic shape and length by an editor. Then, a subbie would tear into it, weeding out logical inconsistencies in the flow of text, trapping factual errors, adding puns, dismantling potentially libellous statements, checking the grammar and spelling, cutting it to length, adding extra puns, removing the byline, adding the byline back in, and then removing it again. Finally, adding a headline and perhaps a few extra puns, and strapline with plenty of puns.

Things have changed now that almost everything we read is online. Space constraints are no longer the issue. The issue is search engine optimisation, SEO, and converting eyeballs seeing a headline into clicks on that headline to open the page and get those eyeballs and click action on to the advertising within.

First, we had keyword stuffing, which was usually out of site and the headlines followed the traditional form for years. Next came clickbait, of which there are two flavours. One that baits the reader to click with a catchy enticement and keywords in which they’re interested. Another, a kind of bait and switch on a par with Rickrolling in which an attractive headline makes the eyeball to click conversion, but the content within isn’t what the headline suggested, bait and switch clickbait, you might call it.

Now, we are in a new golden age of headline writing, but sadly, the subbies aren’t happy as puns are out. There is no point in making parochial puns, idiotic idioms, or archaic cultural allusions when one’s vast new audience is international. Your native tongue and clever wordplay won’t work for every putative reader from those just starting to learning your language as a second, third, or fourth language and even for those in the upper echelons of multilinguistics.

So headlines these days have to be self-explanatory rather than self-indulgent. They have to make sense on a first read without anyone having to reach for a dictionary to interpret them. They have to be conversational, a dialogue between reader and writer are, in the age of social media, all-important, essential in fact. The writer must now recognise not that they are talking to a vast, abeyant audience of word worshippers, but rather talking one-to-one, direct in dialogue, with their reader. A singular reader is the audience even if there are millions of them (I wish).

A couple of excellent infographics published with an NPR article entitled “Write digital headlines both readers and Google will love” summarises brilliantly everything I am talking about here and more. It explains the modern penchant for long, conversational headlines of which we are all seeing more and more these days as well as the SEO-led nature of the URL for those headlines that take your eyeball, via your web browser or app, to the page in question.

As you can see, the title of this article is

Here's how to write a clickable headline without using clickbait

The web address, the URL, for it is not what you’d perhaps expect though. It’s not


No. The URL is as follows, which is much more SEO ready for Google and other search engines


Now, I’ve been a science writer, journalist, copywriter, editor for more than three decades. I hope I’ve learned a few things about the trade, in that time. But, I’m no high-faluting expert and maybe my interpretation of the NPR isn’t entirely accurate. You can read it for yourself and learn your own lessons.

The key points are that your new-form headlines should do the following:

  • Say why the article matters
  • Be conversational
  • Address people, not policy
  • Use articles (the, a, an)
  • Avoid journalese and jargon
  • Avoid questions, the headline should be the answer
  • Focus on specifics
  • Avoid puns*

From the SEO perspective the article’s URL should:

  • Use one or two keywords, but not be stuffed
  • Be written for humans not machines
  • Be clear and direct

I am planning to use the techniques a little more with my own writing on to see if I can draw the crowds a little more. There was a time when daily unique visitors to sciencebase numbered in their thousands, these days, that’s more like the monthly numbers. Of course, back then (1999 onwards) Sciencebase was one of very few science news sites and social media was not yet a reality. Indeed, when I first established Elemental Discoveries, which was the proto-sciencebase, it was *the* only popular science news website as far as I know. So, I have hopes, but they’re not high. We’ll see.

Also, for anyone who hit this page searching for SEO and was expecting a short-eared owl, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Here’s one I snapped earlier.

Short-eared owl (SEO), not to be confused with search-engine optimisation (SEO)

*Subbies are almost redundant now.

There’s a very simple solution to combating video call burnout

Zoom burnout, they’re calling it.

We’ve probably all experienced it by now, that feeling of exhaustion and of having Zoomed too far, joined one two many “webinars”, Whatsapped a bit too much with the family, argued over the quiz results, and drank far too much “at” far too many friends on House Party.

You’ve logged in and fiddled with mic and cam settings until everyone in the video-chat can see and hear you. You’ve waited, sometimes minutes, for the host to show up and let you all in. You’ve put up with the audio feedback issues when two of you are in the same room and in the same chat.

You’ve changed your background to the blue planet and to the Golden Gate Bridge, and the palm trees on the beach. You’ve had the Aurora whisping away behind you as your face mysteriously modulates from visible to invisible and back again like Alice’s Cheshire Cat. You’ve even downloaded all those empty TV studio set photos from the BBC. You’ve virtually sat in Noel’s chair from Multicoloured Swap Shop, you’ve pondered which era Doctor Who that particular TARDIS background is [Peter Davidson] and one of your best friends hopped aboard The Liberator and shouted Avon calling in the most camp voice possible. You’ve searched to see if there is a Tomorrow People background, so you might chat with Tim in the frame and jaunt about a bit.

Then there’s the issue of which app to actually use for the best experience. Zoom is okay, but it sometimes gets overloaded and it’s definitely overloaded with tabloid scaremongering so some friends won’t use it. You’ve tried to persuade others to opt for yet another app or website. “This one’s better, it’s faster, there’s no privacy or issues [there are always privacy and security issues].

There’s even the vague possibility that we might all be able to sync up and sing or play instruments together across the ether because this new app has much lower sound delay, latency, [it doesn’t, none of them have a sufficiently low delay to let musicians perform together online].

Your eyes are feeling blurry, you’re thinking…it’s the staring at the screen for so long, that’s why you feel so tired. But, we’ve all been staring at screens interminably for years, it’s not that. It’s something else. Maybe it’s the needing to be constantly “on”. Constantly concentrating on all those faces staring slightly askew in their blue reflected haze.

It’s neither of those things.

Maybe it’s the lack of body language cues. It’s hard to converse and fully engage without seeing someone’s expressive hands and shoulder shrugs. But, as we’re all sitting on our hands to stop us touching our faces anyway, those cues are always off-limits. But, it’s not that either. We’ve managed on the good-old telephone with no video for decades with no real problems.

So, what is it, why are we all feeling burned out and a little melancholic, miserable even, after all this facetime zooming by? We should be happy that despite the global pandemic those of us with the tech can still cling to each other, sticking together while we’re apart, as it were. Very unfortunate for those in places with no tech…for so many reasons.

Could it be that every time we fire up those webcams and tweak that background, for another online chat that we are simply mourning the loss of what we had? The meeting up in the real world, the pubs, the clubs, the musical rehearsals, the live theatre and music festivals, the art galleries and museums, the beauty spots, the far-flung holidays, the freedom? The freedom from worry about catching or spreading a lethal pathogen? I think so.

Zoom burnout isn’t tiredness. It isn’t the strain of feeling one’s eyes going square like we were warned about back in the days of proper television with just three channels. It isn’t irritation at the silly backgrounds and the clamouring, clanging sounds of everyone trying to talk at once.

It’s grief.

It’s bereavement.

It’s mourning.

For the life we’ve lost…

…for now.

Fen Edge Un-Events

We live on the Fen Edge patch, the south side of the Cambridgeshire Fens. Pre-corona I ran an events page on Facebook, FEE – Fen Edge Events. Sharing gigs, shows, fairs, events, and other stuff of interest to the locals.

In the midst of corona, I have repurposed the page for quarantine times, social distancing, and self-isolation as the Fen Edge Un-Events page and am sharing virtual cinema clubs, isolation gigs, online quizzes, Zoom pub crawls etc.

Museums and galleries, zoos, cathedrals, and other places of interest, even local gardening enthusiasts, offering virtual tours and access to webcams for free.

Tips and tricks for homeschooling, drawing and sketching techniques, maths tutorials, quizzes for adults and children, free books (electronic and audio), magazines (many free online if you have a library card).

Virtual cinema, book clubs, shared music, DJing, live streaming gigs (classic, rock, pop etc) and shows (comedy, theatrical, musical, opera, ballet).

Recordings of local shows and gigs, including CTW pantos.

Home workouts.

雷竞技官网 lessons and tutorials.

Science stuff, such as astronomy and observing info, birdwatching, and more. Also, citizen science projects you can join from home.

Suggestions for sharing images such as beaches, silent cities, teddy bears, rainbows, jokes.

Live (pub) quiz nights.

There will also be occasional public service announcements (PSAs), about the disease, about resources and utilities, grants for the vulnerable, wellness and mental health advice.

STAY HOME, STAY EDUTAINED, STAY WELL – We will get through this together, apart!

Join here

Science on TikTok

UPDATE: Well, it was worth a try…some of the vids I posted had a few hundred views and a handful of likes, one got 1500+ views and a few dozen likes. But the vast majority of the stuff on there is pointless nonsense and there seems to be little engagement to be frank. Even attempting to find STEM people has not really worked so far. I am going to leave it to brew on the backburner for a while over the Christmas period and come back to it next month.

You may have heard about TikTok, it’s a fairly new video platform (actually, it’s ancient, founded in September 2016!). Rumour has it that’s mostly youngster doing silly stunts and pranking each other and if it’s not that then its craftspeople and builders and decorators showing off their skills in plastering, bricklaying, tree-felling, carving, plastering, and other stuff. There’s been some 15-second activism that hit the headlines recently and seems to be growing…

I registered with the app soon after it launched, but never used it at the time. Well, as I mentioned here a few days ago I was inspired by engineer-inventor Dr Lucy Rogers to take a closer look as I imagined that there could be potential for engaging and perhaps even inspiring some of those youngsters with some sciencey videos.

My early postings are a bit eclectic, some music, some moths, a stylish stile, silly snowy filters, and others bits & bobs. Some seem to have been viewed several hundred times and liked by a few dozen users; others don’t seem to have hit the target at all.

Anyway, as I did with Twitter more than a decade ago, I thought it might be nice to start compiling a list of STEM people active on TikTok and maybe even encourage a few who aren’t but who have content that they share on other social media to take a look. So, I’ve made a start and will add anyone who is in STEM and sharing experiments, demos, and other pertinent stuff, just let me have your handle and I’ll take a look.


Tik Tok, TikTok, what you waitin’, what you waitin’ for?

My friend Dr Lucy Rogers tweeted something she’d posted on Tik Tok, a short clip of an English oak in its autumnal finery. Very nice I thought…

…more fool me. Ten minutes later I had re-registered on Tik Tok and was scrolling through vids like a man possessed. If Youtube was the previous tech generation’s cocaine, then Tik Tok is basically crack. If it’s not crack cocaine to Youtube’s cocaine, then it’s definitely its crystal to Vimeo’s meth, or perhaps it’s just “tirami” to Vine’s “su”.

Needless to say I have now posted a few snippets to test the water, got a few likes already and a tiny clutch of followers including Dr Lucy Rogers.

So far, I’ve posted a Fieldfare feeding in our garden during the Beast from the East weather period, a folk band in a Greek Taverna, the rotating propellers of an aeroplane on which we flew in September, one of us driving over the Tyne Bridge, and am just about to put up a video of our dog running in the snow. Exciting stuff, huh? What a time to be alive! Oh, yes, I’m @sciencebase as you’d probably expect.

UPDATE: Lucy highlighted a couple of other TikTokers in our realm: RuthAmos and RobIves. I will add to the list as new STEM people turn up.

Cutting back on emoji

For a while back there I had emoji on my twitter profile splitting it to the seams. I’ve trimmed them back again now, but for posterity, here’s how it was. Thanks to @bef_xoxo for asking why I had so many. She is part of the team running NUSU Freshers at NCL this year.

You might also note that I have only about 42500 followers as of July 2019. Not two or three years ago that number as closer to 54000. Ah well, general attrition of users leaving and unfollowing over time and a slower rate of uptake by new followers. If you want to follow the new emojically abbreviated @sciencebase, that’s the handle, as ever.

Twitter gender

For a while back there, I had more than 54,000 followers on Twitter, for what that’s worth. Current number after some losses over the last couple of years through general attrition, spam and bot clearouts etc, now means my follower count is down to about 43,000 followers. I did an analysis of declared pronouns, bio details and name on a sample of 2,000 of the most recently active based on 200 tweets in my timeline (using a freely available tool called

The breakdown of followers is as follows: 32% male, 16% female, 52% not known.

The proportions are different for the people I myself follow. I don’t tend to keep following people who don’t follow me and I limit the total number to 2000, at the moment it’s just under 1800 that I follow.

44% male, 26% female, 30 not known