For a while now, web applications have been trying to obfuscate the URL, presumably because ordinary people can’t deal with the concept of an address. Which is, of course, stupid because we deal with addresses all the time.

One possible reason for wanting to hide the URL is so they can hide the tracking shit they add to the end of it. For example, here’s the basic URL for an Eventbrite page.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/artists-and-machine-learning-registration-31817203111

If you visit this, it works.

However, when that link was given to me in an email from Eventbrite, it looked like this:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/artists-and-machine-learning-registration-31817203111?ref=enivte001&invite=MTE0NTczNDMvcGV0ZWFzaHRvbkBnbWFpbC5jb20vMA%3D%3D&utm_source=eb_email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=invitemodernv2&ref=enivte001&utm_term=attend

Nothing that follows the ? is necessary for me to open the page. It adds nothing to my experience. All it does is tell Eventbrite, via their web analytics programme, who I am and where I came from.

I call this stuff “utm_cruft” after the UTM acronym that appears all over them. It stands for Urchin Tracking Module which is not at all creepy sounding.

When sharing a link with someone you can safely delete all that shit. It looks ugly, is confusing and doesn’t add anything. The page will load perfectly fine.

That said, don’t just delete everything you ever see after a question mark. The ? is actually a valid part of the URL which can be used for good when it’s not being used for evil.

For example, a very basic Wordpress installation has URLs that look like this:

http://myblog.com/?p=1234

This won’t load the myblog.com home page, but will load the post which has the ID “1234” in the database.

Here’s a URL for the Wordpress editing interface:

http://photo-school.co.uk/wp-admin/post.php?post=2085&action=edit

This is asking photo-school.co.uk to run the post.php programme to load the post numbered 2085 so that we can edit it.

So the ? in this case is being used to send instructions to the programme. Very useful! (And potentially risky, of course).

Which means that if you want to remove all the utm_cruft you should be a little careful until you learn to spot its patterns. It tends to be added to the end and it always contains utm. And always test your “new” URL before sharing it!

But you can delete that shit, for your privacy, sanity and to keep the web clean.