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Strava Announces Immediate Changes

This week Strava announced some fundamental changes to the service it provides to athletes.

In a newsletter Strava founders Mark Gainey and Michael Horvath outlined what their plan is for the popular social fitness network and the changes taking place with immediate effect.

Strava athletes deserve an affordable and constantly improving experience, and we hope you’ve noticed how focused we’ve been this year on delivering that.

The blog posts began by focusing on some of the recent work done at Strava. Often criticised for being slow to react to user feature requests, this year they seem to have paid more than their usual attention to feedback implementing over 50 improvements including the Routes feature and metrics for new sports.

We returned the option to sort your feed in chronological order. We heard how much that change drove you nuts, and admit it took a really long time to respond.

After this warm-up, the next paragraphs set us up for what they were about to announce.

We are not yet a profitable company and need to become one in order to serve you better.

When you add that statement to the numbers Strava released recently showing they have over 50 million users with a million new accounts created every month you start to get a feel for what’s coming next.

For over 10 years, since 2009, Strava has been virtually free to use. Yes, they have had a subscription model in place. But the number of times that offering was changed in recent years suggests that it has not been too successful.

I have tried Strava subscriptions several times but never felt they were worth the, admittedly modest, monthly fee over what free tier users got.

From now on, more of our new feature development will be for subscribers – we’ll invest the most in the athletes who have invested in us.

For a company aiming to be profitable, this makes sense. They have obviously done the initial hard work in attracting a user base so it seems logical to focus your efforts on making the paid-for service more attractive.

Starting today, a few of our free features that are especially complex and expensive to maintain, will become subscription features

And this is the bomb-shell that has runners and cyclists on the Internet across the world in an uproar this week.

By ‘a few features’ they mean some of the features that are probably most popular, such as segment leaderboards.

While your own efforts and the overall leaderboards are still accessible on a free account, you are no longer able to compare your efforts to those of people you follow unless you are paying for a subscription.

Some of the other features that are now only available to paying members include the route planner, training logs, monthly activity trends and segment effort analysis.

We simply want to make a product so good that you’re happy to pay for it.

A subscription costs €7.99 per month or €59.99 if you pay for the year.

Will people be happy to pay? That is the question. 50 million people happily signed up to a free service. But will a large enough number of those consider it worth a ‘monthly subscription that costs as much as a couple energy bars’?

More importantly, how many of those that do not wish to pay for a service they previously enjoyed at no cost will continue to use the free version with its considerably reduced feature set? Especially considering what the entire world has gone and is still going through this year with a global pandemic affecting people’s livelihoods and income?

Personally, I will wait and see. I’ve signed up to the 60-day free trial for now.

However, I am wondering if the free tier is all that I really need? An often expressed criticism of Strava is that constantly comparing your efforts to others’ makes riding overly competitive and sucks the fun out mountain biking. While I don’t lay the blame for this on Strava, I have found myself frustrated at times after a perfectly enjoyable ride when I find my times were not as impressive as other people’s. For that reason, I generally restrict myself to comparing my times only against my own past efforts as a gauge of my personal progress.

The other consideration and one that only time will answer is, will Strava continue to be a social platform if enough users leave, or will it then turn into nothing more than an activity tracker?

Owen Franssen
Owen Franssen

Riding bikes, exploring trails, meeting people in Ireland and abroad.

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