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Strava - Smart Decision or Big Mistake?


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I already pay for their premium service, but it will be interesting if the leaderboards being a "premium" offering will have folks drop off.

I sort of feel, if you are obsessed about KOMs and QOMs (looking at @Dirtyhip :D ) then you also might be willing to pay a small fee to keep Strava in business.

Time will tell.

CyclingTips had an interesting post supporting Strava's decision, and it seems to be one that resonates with folks trying to make a living in this new "free" world.

   I feel for Strava today. It’s an empathy built on common experience. We’re both, in our own way, trying to put a giant, recalcitrant genie back in a very small bottle.
In case you missed it, Strava just announced that the core service they provide, the very lynchpin of their platform, is going behind a paywall. The leaderboards are no longer free. You can read all about it here, but the details, for the purposes of this letter, are less important than the act itself, and why it was probably necessary. And, of course, what it has to do with CyclingTips.
   A little over ten years ago, Strava started as a simple, experimental tool for comparing times on bike rides. It was, for a short time, a paid service. You got a bit for free, but for the full experience, it was a few bucks a month. But Strava realized it needed scale; it needed users. Strava is fun because other people are on it, because there are other people to beat or get beaten by, and so you need a critical mass of athletes to make it work. Making everything free gave Strava that critical mass. The segments and their leaderboards, a brilliant tool that allowed us bike people to race other bike people who weren’t even on the same ride, were now free to use.
   On the Internet, we’re all used to free. Everything’s free. Websites are free. Videos are free. Newspapers, for a very long time, were free. This all gets paid for with ads.
Strava has about 180 employees right now. It has huge databases to run, engineering and development hurdles to leap over. That’s expensive.
   So Strava turned to freemium. The core of the service remained free, but it added little paid tidbits on top. Some training tools, for example. The ability to analyze your rides in more detail. And it started to think of itself as a platform, an athlete’s brand, “the next ESPN,” one former employee told me a few years ago. A Facebook for athletes, perhaps? Who knows.
   It started diverting resources to these goals. To creating ad products, like turning rides completed on a Wahoo a special Wahoo blue, and partnerships. To building a media platform, and an algorithmic feed, like the one you get on Facebook or Instagram.
   It didn’t fix bluetooth connectivity issues with Apple Watch. Its complaint forums filled with bug reports and feature requests. It didn’t build the tools users asked for, the ones that would let them play with the vast amount of data Strava holds, or even play with their own data.
   For the last few years, Strava made a go at all sorts of ad products and partnerships, alternative revenue streams, and it made the platform worse. Because they didn’t work for us, the Strava user. They worked for ad product buyers and partners and for the dream of an athlete’s social media app.
   But there was a problem. Even at their peak, the ad products Strava sold were never particularly successful, never made up more than a paltry part of the company’s revenue. The freemium model didn’t pull in enough subscribers. Strava, to this day, is not profitable.
   The announcement this week is an admission of this. Strava’s core business is selling a useful, fun platform to the people who use it and love it.
   And this is where the correlations to modern media come in. The genie, in Strava’s case, was free access to its core product, the segment leaderboard. With Monday’s announcement, Strava just shoved that genie rather unceremoniously back in the bottle, to the tune of $5 per month.
   The genie, in our case, is all of the content you consume online for free. Content that is not free to make. Our genie is content that informs you, that entertains you, that enlightens you, that makes you want to come back tomorrow and read again. Content that builds our audience.
   That genie’s been out of the bottle since the days of dialup.
   Like Strava tried to do, most media sells you, the audience, rather than selling to you. That’s what ads are, and they’ve worked for over a century. But also like Strava, much of modern media ended up far worse for it. When your cursory glance is worth as much as your dedicated attention – and, under an eyeballs-for-dollars ad model, it is – then content designed for cursory glances takes over. Once massive ad tech companies like Google and Facebook started grabbing 60% of global digital ad spend for themselves, a media outlet’s ability to monetize its own content dwindled even further. We don’t have enough of your data to sell.
   Strava appears to have made the decision sometime recently to think of its users not as units to be sold but as customers. It's the same decision we made here at CyclingTips a few years ago, when we started VeloClub. Now Strava works for its subscribers and its product will almost certainly be better for it. 
   We know that working for your audience makes for a better product. We know because, even though our content is and will remain free, it's what we do. Members make CyclingTips better. For the price of a cup or two of coffee, you make us more creative, more willing to take chances, more willing to ignore the crassly click-worthy in favor of something deeper.
   If you're not a VeloClub member, consider joining. Same goes for other media that you enjoy, and apps like Strava that you use. Our friends at Rouleur are feeling the pain of closed newsstands, for example. They are not alone. Venerable titles like Dirt Rag have recently shuttered, pushed past the brink by an ad model that just doesn't work as well as it used to.
   Pushing the genie back into the bottle is good for everyone. When you're there for us, we'll be there for you.

 

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You already get a lot of ads on Strava.  This has expanded over time.  I was a premium member for long while.  Honestly, I don't really care a whole bunch these days about it.  

It can cause some evil things in people.  With trails getting more crowded.  I'm not going to be rude to anyone on the trail, so chasing crowns becomes a problem.  Also, those hurt feelings if you happened to not invite someone, but invited others.  Like hearing about a party and they were not invited.  Hurt feelings becomes a thing.

Don't care about the platform and I won't subscribe.

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21 hours ago, Dirtyhip said:

You already get a lot of ads on Strava.  This has expanded over time.  I was a premium member for long while.  Honestly, I don't really care a whole bunch these days about it.  

It can cause some evil things in people.  With trails getting more crowded.  I'm not going to be rude to anyone on the trail, so chasing crowns becomes a problem.  Also, those hurt feelings if you happened to not invite someone, but invited others.  Like hearing about a party and they were not invited.  Hurt feelings becomes a thing.

Don't care about the platform and I won't subscribe.

I'm much more of the "I only care about the true KOM segments".  I absolutely abhor any segment that is downhill (your downhills are DIFFERENT) or flat.  If it isn't a rated climb, I couldn't care less if you grabbed a spot on the leaderboard.  This article has a part that sums it up well for me:

Strava leaderboards were never designed to rank pure solo TT efforts. Although it is possible to filter by sex, age, weight and date, it remains hard to distinguish between team versus solo efforts, road versus TT bikes and weather conditions.

The nature of records is that they are there to be broken, so the top times will always get faster. The evidence from this analysis suggests that there are faster cyclists around today, and more of them, than two years ago.

For many, perhaps that’s sapped some of the enjoyment of Strava, where a respectable time amongst the top few hundred may have been attainable, now the conditions have to be right and you may need a small group to support you.

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@Razors Edge Specifically the training log, and access to segment stats is not in premium. I paid for Strava one year, and didn't see the benefit so I didn't renew. Even now I don't see wanting to pay for it. I will write them some feedback though. One thing I liked aboot premium was the heatmap, that's super dope.  Sucks how these companies sucker you in then say "oh, now ya gotta pay".

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5 minutes ago, bikeman564™ said:

@Razors Edge Specifically the training log, and access to segment stats is not in premium. I paid for Strava one year, and didn't see the benefit so I didn't renew. Even now I don't see wanting to pay for it. I will write them some feedback though. One thing I liked aboot premium was the heatmap, that's super dope.  Sucks how these companies sucker you in then say "oh, now ya gotta pay".

I agree with your frustration and the "what's the point of Premium" feeling from a few years back.  I had it as well, dropped it for a while, and am back with it.  I realized that I'll drop way more $$$ on stuff I use rarely or consume immediately (coffee, snacks, etc), but wasn't spend anything on something I use almost every day - Strava.  I sucked it up and am fine with it.

The article I posted above really sums it up well in this part - explaining that Strava tried, but it just diverted time, money, and resources from the product.

   On the Internet, we’re all used to free. Everything’s free. Websites are free. Videos are free. Newspapers, for a very long time, were free. This all gets paid for with ads.
Strava has about 180 employees right now. It has huge databases to run, engineering and development hurdles to leap over. That’s expensive.
   So Strava turned to freemium. The core of the service remained free, but it added little paid tidbits on top. Some training tools, for example. The ability to analyze your rides in more detail. And it started to think of itself as a platform, an athlete’s brand, “the next ESPN,” one former employee told me a few years ago. A Facebook for athletes, perhaps? Who knows.
   It started diverting resources to these goals. To creating ad products, like turning rides completed on a Wahoo a special Wahoo blue, and partnerships. To building a media platform, and an algorithmic feed, like the one you get on Facebook or Instagram.
   It didn’t fix bluetooth connectivity issues with Apple Watch. Its complaint forums filled with bug reports and feature requests. It didn’t build the tools users asked for, the ones that would let them play with the vast amount of data Strava holds, or even play with their own data.
   For the last few years, Strava made a go at all sorts of ad products and partnerships, alternative revenue streams, and it made the platform worse. Because they didn’t work for us, the Strava user. They worked for ad product buyers and partners and for the dream of an athlete’s social media app.
   But there was a problem. Even at their peak, the ad products Strava sold were never particularly successful, never made up more than a paltry part of the company’s revenue. The freemium model didn’t pull in enough subscribers. Strava, to this day, is not profitable.

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1 minute ago, Razors Edge said:

I agree with your frustration and the "what's the point of Premium" feeling from a few years back.  I had it as well, dropped it for a while, and am back with it.  I realized that I'll drop way more $$$ on stuff I use rarely or consume immediately (coffee, snacks, etc), but wasn't spend anything on something I use almost every day - Strava.  I sucked it up and am fine with it.

The article I posted above really sums it up well in this part - explaining that Strava tried, but it just diverted time, money, and resources from the product.

   On the Internet, we’re all used to free. Everything’s free. Websites are free. Videos are free. Newspapers, for a very long time, were free. This all gets paid for with ads.
Strava has about 180 employees right now. It has huge databases to run, engineering and development hurdles to leap over. That’s expensive.
   So Strava turned to freemium. The core of the service remained free, but it added little paid tidbits on top. Some training tools, for example. The ability to analyze your rides in more detail. And it started to think of itself as a platform, an athlete’s brand, “the next ESPN,” one former employee told me a few years ago. A Facebook for athletes, perhaps? Who knows.
   It started diverting resources to these goals. To creating ad products, like turning rides completed on a Wahoo a special Wahoo blue, and partnerships. To building a media platform, and an algorithmic feed, like the one you get on Facebook or Instagram.
   It didn’t fix bluetooth connectivity issues with Apple Watch. Its complaint forums filled with bug reports and feature requests. It didn’t build the tools users asked for, the ones that would let them play with the vast amount of data Strava holds, or even play with their own data.
   For the last few years, Strava made a go at all sorts of ad products and partnerships, alternative revenue streams, and it made the platform worse. Because they didn’t work for us, the Strava user. They worked for ad product buyers and partners and for the dream of an athlete’s social media app.
   But there was a problem. Even at their peak, the ad products Strava sold were never particularly successful, never made up more than a paltry part of the company’s revenue. The freemium model didn’t pull in enough subscribers. Strava, to this day, is not profitable.

Valid points, and I know it takes money to run sites...like this forum, which I do pay SW $15. That's nothing I think for the entertainment here :D If SW charged everyone, most people probably would not join. Same point, if Strava charged everyone (<current price), probably not a lot of people would join which then drives the per user cost higher. Then eventually they either close the site, or sell it to a company which then screws it up to where no one wants to use it :wacko:  You bring up a good point about spending more on less. I've wasted money over the years, and yet Strava is a site I go to daily and pay nothing. Makes me look cheap.

 

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I have an issue with signing up for too many subscriptions. I isn't that I am cheap.  I have to watch my spending.  Even at a $50 annual fee, these things add up.  We have been successful in life by keeping overhead low. 

Would I like a bigger home?  Yes

Would I like Strava premium? Yes

Would I like Amazon prime?  Yes

Would I like ad free music on Pandora?  Yes

Would I like to travel to other countries more often?  Yes

Would I like to go to restaurants more often?  Yes

Do I need these things in order to survive?  No

Strava premium is just anther thing that I do not need.  I want to keep my costs down so we can work even less than we do right now.  We can't afford to keep adding costs if we want to retire early and enjoy our time together at a relatively young age.  We could work till we are 65, and then retire, but then out bodies are more worn and less able to enjoy that time.  

 

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Good points all around, and sort of why it is such challenging waters for Strava to navigate.  $5 month ($59.99/yr) is more than I spend at Starbucks :D but it could EASILY - non-COVID times - be WAY less than I spend on ice cream or Frappucino or cookies per month. Certainly way less than those sort of "extras" (that make life worth living!) if combined.  In normal times, I think NOTHING about picking up a new tasty looking dessert item in the grocery store - almost always in the $5 price range. 

In any case, I think Strava (and Garmin/Wahoo) add value to my life enough that I support them through a Strava subscription and the GPS bike computers I have bought.  They are neither charities (providing free products) nor beggars (putting their hands out for "nothing" in return), and I'd rather a cycling world included folks like Strava rather than not.

I also feel, Strava WILL lose users, so it will be interesting what the cutthroat world of capitalism creates in that vacuum.  Likely another "free" service that eventually has to figure out how to make some revenue, at which point the cycle will repeat. 

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