Usqp=mq331AQCCAE code in URLs – What does it mean?

Science 25 Oct 2017
Usqp=mq331AQCCAE code in URLs – What does it mean?

Today I’m going to cover another reader question. A reader contacted TechJunkie via the website to ask, ‘Why am I seeing AMP URLs with a usqp=mq331AQCCAE code at the end? It looks like Google Analytics but I don’t have any running’. As someone who uses Google Analytics on my business sites, I was in a position to answer.

If you see, or saw an AMP URL that ended in ‘usqp=mq331AQCCAE’, you’re not alone. This puzzled a lot of people for quite a while and Google wasn’t exactly effuse with its help. Fortunately, the community was more than up to the challenge.

First off, lets cover the basics.

What is an AMP URL?

An AMP URL is Accelerated Mobile Page. This is a special page type that strips away anything that isn’t needed to read the contents of a page. It is for written article content only with no interactive elements or widgets. AMP strips away all JavaScript, all code, all media elements and anything at all that slows a page down when it is loaded.

The idea is to keep the page as light as possible so it loads (almost) instantly on mobile devices. It is similar to Facebook Instant Articles which does much the same thing. It works with static content such as an article without comments, video and a static image.

The intent is speed but there is also a side benefit of much lower data use to load a page. Now unlimited data is a thing of the past, we all have to keep an eye on our usage. Once fully implemented, AMP URLs will lower the data ‘cost’ of loading a web page significantly.

Google has created its own standard to use with AMP and has released its own JavaScript to implement AMP pages that meet its criteria. Yep, that’s right, a JavaScript that helps remove JavaScript from pages.

So what was the usqp=mq331AQCCAE code in URLs?

The usqp=mq331AQCCAE code in URLs was a test run by Google. According to a Google Product Forum response from the company, they were testing the efficacy of the URLs between a certain date.

Google’s response reads:

‘usqp=mq331AQCCAE is a parameter passed on to the GA collection request as a result of our engineers enabling server side serving from Jun 26th. Engineers have implemented a mechanism to strip this parameter from the GA collection request on Aug 1st.

This should not have affected any normal processing of the GA reports. Apologies for the confusion it may have caused. I hope it’s not too much an interference of your daily work.’ (Source)

GA reports refer to Google Analytics which is where the AMP URLs were first detected. The ‘usqp=mq331AQCCAE’ is an analytics code used internally to track the experiment. You should no longer see these URLs until Google runs more tests.

The trouble with AMP

On the surface AMP seems a great idea. Strip out web pages of all their fluff and code and minimize the page for mobile use. It loads faster, costs less data and gets us the content we want with the minimum of delay and fuss. What could go wrong?

Well quite a lot actually.

The main issue is that Google are creating their own standard. At the moment, CSS, HTML, JavaScript and other web code is controlled by international standards boards that ensure the web is as open and transparent as possible. They also test code exhaustively to make sure it works to the best of its ability for the vast majority of users.

The Google code does not. While we can depend on Google to try to get it to work as well as it can, there is no openness or oversight of how the code is used and implemented.

The other important issue is that of trust and ownership. At the moment, if you visit a website, you are seeing a page served by that site and can trust it to a degree. With AMP, Google takes a snapshot of your page, caches it on their AMP servers and serves it directly from there. So essentially, you lose all control over the content you create.

The World Wide Web is called that for a reason. TechJunkie creates a web page and links to other web pages. Other web pages then link to us and this continues ad infinitum. Pages can be copied, hosted or referred across the internet and everything is everywhere for everyone to see. AMP pages do away with that.

Rather than traversing the internet for your content, you would stay on Google’s servers. They serve the pages and you have no reason to leave. In other words, one company controls what you see, when and how. That is not good news for anybody.

If you saw the usqp=mq331AQCCAE code in URLs, it should not have had any effect on your experience. You should also no longer see them as they stopped being used on August 1. The long term effect of AMP is still yet to be felt and it doesn’t look good.

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