/Strava Cuts Off Leaderboard for Free Users, Reduces 3rd Party Apps for All, and More

Strava Cuts Off Leaderboard for Free Users, Reduces 3rd Party Apps for All, and More


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After roughly five months of appeasing users with new feature after new feature after new feature, the other shoe has finally dropped. Today, Strava sold its segmented soul. At least, if you believe Strava Segments are the soul of what makes Strava, well, Strava.

The company announced three substantial negative changes to the platform effective immediately, which will have huge ramifications for its 55 million users, as well as the 44,000 registered 3rd party apps. They are summarized as follows:

– Non-paying users will no longer see the full leaderboard: They’ll only see the top 10 times (all + Top 10 women), you won’t see your friends anymore
– Strava is removing the leaderboard from all 3rd party apps: If you’re using one of the 44,000 3rd party apps out there to do anything with Segments, this likely just broke it. Only devices like those from Garmin/Wahoo/Hammerhead/etc that have Strava Live Segments can display that for paying members.
– Non-paying users will no longer get the web route builder: If you want to build routes, you’ll need to use another platform.

In addition to those substantial ones, there’s also one lesser removal:

– Non-paying users will no longer get ‘matched runs’ feature: This will automatically compare runs on the same route from a pace/speed standpoint. A new matched rides feature is introduced today, which is only available to paying users.

One might mistakenly believe this change is only impacting non-paying users. But that’s far from true. This change is impacting anyone who uses the platform with 3rd party apps to do any amount of analysis of Segments. And even beyond that, it’s lessening the value of Segments for everyone. Strava is in effect saying: Segments don’t really matter to our business anymore, getting people to pay for them does.

And here’s the worst part: They aren’t necessarily wrong on that specific issue. In a conference call last week, Strava was point-blank clear that if they don’t get more subscribers and become profitable, there’s a pretty good chance there won’t be a Strava in a year.

Is some of that posturing? Probably.

But is the undercurrent of it true? Most likely. You can only run an unprofitable business so long when people stop giving you money.

Still, my take is that this is less about Strava’s goals of being profitable, and more about the way they’re going about it. Instead of adding value and new features to the platform and convincing people to convert, they’re pulling the rug out from both free and paid users alike. They’re using the stick, instead of the carrot. And historically speaking – that doesn’t improve customer satisfaction.

Finally, it should be noted that while Strava is slashing and burning today, they did roll out a few new (positive) changes for premium users. First of all, you got a new desktop (web) route builder which better integrates Strava Segments and terrain filters (e.g. gravel vs not, more elevation option, etc…), and you also got some redesigned elements of the mobile app around training load tracking. Some of it is new functionality, a lot of it is mostly cleaned up user interface design. Those will show up in iOS/Android app version v150 starting today, but may take up to 48 hours for everyone to see. The restrictions will appear immediately. On a normal day I might have covered that more in-depth, but today is not a normal day.

Leaderboard Changes:

This first change only impacts non-paying users. By the way, while we’re at it, as of today Strava is ditching the ‘Summit’ moniker it created two summers ago. Now, you’re simply a ‘subscriber’ or not. Meaning, you’re either paying or not. If you’re not paying, Strava wants you to pay – and they’re even giving you a 60-day trial to test things out. Mind you, you’ll have to provide a credit card first, and if you forget to cancel in mid-July you’ll become one of those paying subscribers.

In any case, as of today, non-paying users will no longer see the full leaderboard. The ‘leaderboard’ is basically what is shown when you look up a Strava segment. It manifests itself in a few different ways, including mini-leaderboards and full leaderboards. For example, here’s a mini-leaderboard. You can see not only the top 10, but my self and my stats on it.

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However, when I view the full leaderboard, I get additional key information – notably the ‘People I’m following’ and ‘My Clubs’, as well as ‘My results’ and ‘This Year’. Plus age groups and weight classes too. If you’re a non-paying member, you’ll get none of this going forward (you previously didn’t get ages/weights unless a subscriber).

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In this context, if I was a non-paying member, I wouldn’t be able to see that I’m faster than GPLAMA here. It simply wouldn’t show up anymore, as if it didn’t exist. And frankly, I can’t have that.

Same goes for my group membership in the Slowtwitch.com ‘Club’, that too would go away, here on a different segment:

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Free users can still create segments, as well as use the segment explorer to look at/search for segments. They can also see the KOM/QOM (due to being allowed to see the Top 10/10 Top 10 Female), as well as they can see their own PR’s.

To be very specific, here’s what non-paying users will see going forward:

Free users:
•    Top 10 all-time and top 10 women Results in Leaderboard
•    New Segment Creation is allowed
•    Segment Detail screen is allowed (just not leaderboard details)
•    Segment Explore / Search is allowed
•    Flagging Segments is allowed
•    Activity achievements is shown on a ride (KOM’s, CR’s, PR’s)

Paying Subscribers only:
•    All segment leaderboards (including following/clubs/this year/age groups/weight classes)
•    Analyze segment efforts
•    Compare your results
•    Analyze your efforts

So, here’s (on the mobile app), what a non-paying member should see starting today, and what happens if they try and do anything:

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Now – obviously, if you don’t care about segments, then you probably won’t care about this.

I think though this lessens the value of Strava Segments for everyone, because it makes it far less interesting/valuable to non-paying users. They won’t care what their friends do, because they can’t see what their friends do. And if a tree falls in the forest…who cares? In other words, your friends that aren’t subscribers won’t bother competing with you on Segments anymore, because they can’t see the results of it.

And of course – this perhaps gets to the core of Strava’s realization: They’re far less a network about segment KOM’s than they are now a social fitness network. As much as Strava has resisted that aura being applied to them in the past, that’s what they are today. And it’s probably not untrue. I personally don’t care much about segments in my day to day riding (and certainly not running). I use Strava for essentially three things:

A) Finding/Building routes
B) Posting my activities and photos for others to see
C) Looking at what my real-life friends have posted recently

And that’s it.

Segments don’t appreciably enter into my day to day usage of Strava (unless I’m beating Lama on a segment when he doesn’t realize it, obviously). Of course, we’re all different. If you’re out there hunting segments with Strava Live Segments or Xert, awesome, more power to you. It’s clear that Strava wants you to have a subscription though, otherwise Segments are mostly useless.

3rd Party App Access:

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Out of all the things they’re doing here, this is one of the most irritating ones. Mainly, because of how they’re doing it. Effective today at the exact same time this post publishes, Strava will break some portion of those 44,000 apps. The same app developers that have furthered Strava’s business and reach, Strava has decided to give zero notice to.

Of course, Strava counters they did notify a handful of ”larger developers” ahead of time. But most didn’t get notice. For those, Strava says:

“We realize these API changes could be especially challenging for some developers, so they’ll be non-breaking for 30 days, returning empty data during that time so they can make necessary adjustments. After June 18th, those endpoints will either omit the data or return an error message.”

Which is hilariously crass.

Here, let me translate what they’re saying for you into plain English:

“We realize that this is probably gonna break some (ok, most) apps. So instead of giving you time to fix your apps, we’re just gonna do it anyways and instead give you empty data that confuses your end users and app design, so this way it appears your app is broken – not Strava’s. Good deal?

I’m not aware of any reputable software development platform that gives zero notice to their development customers before breaking their apps. The appropriate course of action here would have been to give their 3rd party developer partners at least a month to update their apps to deal with this significant change. Most companies give many many months for upcoming deprecated features.

Plus – if the tables had been turned, and it was Amazon AWS (Strava’s hosting provider), and they simply sent them a note one morning and said: “Don’t worry, we’re just sending you empty data from your databases effective immediately.” – I’m guessing Strava wouldn’t feel the same way.

Look – I get why Strava needs to deprecate this feature. If they let 3rd party developers access it, then people could just go to 3rd party apps to get the leaderboards which are only available to paying members. But I’m not clear why they had to burn the house down to do it today at 10AM Pacific Time. If they didn’t break apps for 30 days, would that have really been such a big deal?

Strava likely still would have converted those users that cared about in-app access, without breaking their partner ecosystem. An ecosystem that at every turn is wary of Strava’s apparent habit of killing of apps that get too close, or too useful to users.

But even in the larger apps, there are features that will go away. Take for example VeloViewer, within this Zwift Insider leaderboard section. You’ll still see the segment placings (and times for non-paying users) – so in effect for non-paying users, it becomes more of a check-list of to-do’s, than a leaderboard of standings.

But wait – why is VeloViewer different than other apps? Well, apparently a small number of apps retain leaderboards, but only to show to Strava subscribers. VeloViewer has detailed the nuances here, which still involve less features now for non-paying Strava users. They’re the only app I’ve been made aware of that retains full leaderboard API access (aside from actual devices with Strava Live Segments).

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Some aspects of VeloViewer that include leaderboards won’t change though. For example, the ‘Leaderboard’ tab on a given segment won’t change, because it is actually just an embed from Strava’s public site which shows the overall leaderboard + Top 10 women.

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That’s still permitted, but isn’t done programmatically anymore. They’re just using the ‘Embed on Blog’ feature to get that to display:

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I asked Strava exactly what was changing developer-wise, and they noted the following specific items from the API:

Segment Leaderboard data is not available anymore

  • /api/v3/segments/:id/leaderboard

Segment Effort data is available for subscribers (but not non-paying users)

  • /api/v3/segments/:id
  • /api/v3/segments/:id/streams
  • /api/v3/segment_efforts [Updated]
  • /api/v3/segment_efforts/:id/streams
  • /api/v3/activities/:id

*Note: An earlier version of this post included additional API deprecations. Strava has since changed the listings and corrected errors in their documentation that included those earlier added items. The current/final list is also now shown correctly here.

So basically, that first single line item above simply says “kill off segment result data”. Here’s what that API call did before today. Even if you’re not a developer, you can see (in yellow), what’s being killed off. To be clear, everything below is killed. But the yellow parts make it clear that they’re doing this so you can’t get the other premium leaderboard features via apps.

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Meanwhile, the other ones that are allowed for paying members means that apps can still get individual efforts for the given authenticated athlete, but not segment-specific data like people within a leaderboard category such as following or age groups. So basically, as a paying member of Strava, I could still use App XYZ to track my specific pedaling on that segment (with things like cadence/heart rate/etc…), but not my rank (unless I ranked in the Top 10 – which pulls via DetailedSegmentEffort – ”kom_rank”).

Look, API changes and deprecations are a normal part of hosting a web platform. What’s not normal is how Strava is handling this. That’s the part they need to be called out for.

Route Builder Changes:

As part of the May 18th changes, Route Builder got a complete overhaul. They’ve added in new map styles, added sport type filters, show segments directly on the Route Builder, and also have a new surface type and increased elevation features.

But, if you’re not a paying member, you’ll never see it.

As of today, non-paying members lose access to the Route Builder entirely. Up until this point, any member could use the Route Builder for free. Going forward, non-paying members can no longer create routes within Strava, except as to copy an existing route from someone else (or your own ride). Existing routes you have in your account remain.

Here’s the two route builders side by side. At left is the new one. At right is the older one:

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The main change here aside from all the user interface elements and map styling, is the addition of surface type preference – similar to what was added to mobile a month or two ago:

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And along the bottom you’ll see a breakout of the surface type, just as you do on mobile now:

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You can also now toggle segments within the map builder directly:

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Previously you could ‘minimize elevation’, but now you can also ‘maximize elevation’, in case you have a soft spot for hills:

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And they’ve incorporated the dark map them from the heat maps into the Route Builder, which is toggleable on the side. The other three map types, as well as heatmaps, were already viewable in the Route Builder.

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Look, the new changes are nice. Nothing earth-shattering, though a nice clean-up.

The only problem? Likely less than 5% of Strava’s 50 million users will ever see them. Why? They’re not paying members.

Wrap-Up:

I’m sure Strava will think this post is overly negative, not highlighting enough of the new changes introduced today. And perhaps that’s the case – but I honestly don’t think those new feature adds are that big a deal. The Route Builder does have some minor nice new additions, but the training updates seem mostly to be more UI tweaks and filtering options than anything major. There’s some value to be had there, sure, but not as much value as is being lost today (for all users).

And look, I get it, Strava needs to find a way to make money. Every company should – that’s why they’re a company and not a non-profit. As part of a letter going out to all users today from their founders, they outline that part well, saying:

“This means that, starting today, a few of our free features that are especially complex and expensive to maintain, like segment leaderboards, will become subscription features. And 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. We’ve also made subscription more straightforward by removing packs and the brand of Summit. You can now use Strava for free or subscribe, simple.

 

This focus on subscription ensures that Strava can serve athletes decades from now, and in an up-front way that honors the support of the athletes we serve today. We plan to take what we earn from these changes and reinvest straight back into building more and better features – not devising ways to fill up your feed with ads or sell your personal information. We simply want to make a product so good that you’re happy to pay for it.”

But I think there’s still tons of value being left on the table that they can focus on in terms of new features to bring to people that would drive paying member adoption, rather than pulling features away that have been there a decade or so.

For example – why can’t clubs/teams create shared Strava routes that automatically sync into the team members’ accounts based on upcoming rides on a team calendar? Or, the ability for clubs to have a group routes page that includes a list of all popular routes that you could easily sync to your device. That would be a huge driver towards membership.

Or why can’t Strava Beacon then automatically integrate across teams/clubs so that people know where everyone is on a group ride? Or perhaps leveraging vehicle density/speed data integration already being gathered, into route builder as I floated this weekend. Or…or…or. There are countless ideas that people can come up with that would drive subscription revenue. All of which could be Summit paid-only features.

I’m just not convinced gutting Segments and routes for non-paying members is the right direction there. Nor is poorly communicating to your development community. But maybe I’m wrong.

With that – thanks for reading.

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