Strava, that website with whom so may of us have a love/hate relationship, has just announced a major revamp which, judging by the comments I’ve seen, has gone down like a lead balloon. The heart of Strava is its activity feed where you see the exercises recorded by yourself, people you follow, and people whose clubs you are a member of. What Strava has done is to make it feel much more like Facebook by allowing other content besides activities into that feed. Athletes can now write blogposts and updates and if you write one it will now feature in the feeds of people who follow you. More than that, though, they have added an algorithm that prioritises athletes who you regularly interact with and updates that they want to put into your feed. In other words, the feed is no longer a chronological list of activities and by introducing this algorithm they have tried to make Strava more “social”. This is a big mistake. The key to Strava’s success is the segment and segment leaderboards. The only reason I use it is to compare my time up a given hill between last time I rode it, people I know who also ride it (usually much faster than me) and people of similar age and weight to me to see how my performance stacks up. If I want to read social updates I’ll go to my Twitter account or my tri club’s Facebook group. The people I want interact with socially are not necessarily Strava athletes.

Strava is heading into dangerous territory by shifting its focus from being the best exercise and recording platform on the web into a social platform. Ask any athlete who uses Strava and they’ll come up with a development wish list for the site. Here’s mine:

  1. Sort out the dog’s breakfast that is the current Apple Watch App: add swim support (the thread on this on the Strava Forum is now pages and pages long); sort the current pace/average pace issue out for cyclists (hint, current pace on a watch is completely useless); add structured training sessions such as preset reps with rest intervals; add a triathlon race mode (after swim support has been added) that allows you to switch between activities with a single touch (Start > Enter T1 > Leave T1 > Enter T2 > Leave T2 > Finish). Restore the ability to “hand-off’ the recording of an activity to your phone. The latest version of the app lost this, so when your watch dies on your long sportive, so does your exercise recording (it retains it up to the point that the battery goes dead). In the original Apple Watch app, because the GPS recording took place on the phone it was easy for the phone to take over when the battery on the watch died. Losing that function is a big backward step.
  2. Do more with the data. Just one example: I’m 54, so the chance of me beating the local pros on our hills is pretty slim, so why not have “Age Group KOMs”. At the moment I have to drill into individual segments to see how I perform relative to my peers. I can’t get an overview.

In short, there would be a long list of developer requests based around platform performance and reporting that any athlete would put well ahead of being “more social”. Judging by the lack of response from on the company over the swim support feature request, Strava are not listening too hard, either. The Internet is littered with companies that lost focus on their core purpose, only to find someone better had come along and camped on their lawn. The classic example of this is MySpace/Facebook. So if I were Strava I’d be listening a darned site harder to the Strava athletes out there and work to make it the best exercise platform on the web instead of attempting to become Facebook Lite.

Luckily, help is it at hand with some of these shortcomings from other developers:

Swim Exporter: this is an app that takes the swim data recorded in the Apple Watch native activity app and uploads it to Strava. It’s really simple and, in the absence of any sign that Strava are going to add swim support to the most successful smart watch on the market,well worth the couple of quid it will cost you The latest version records the GPS track of your swim, too.?http://stickybit.co.nz/swimexporter

Chrome Extension for Strava: If you really don’t like your activity feed being messed with by a Strava algorithm, then install the Chrome Toolbar Extension for Strava by Veloviewer. Once installed, two buttons appear at the top right of your Strava feed, one is to sort by time started and the other is to sort by time uploaded. Both put your Strava activity feed back into chronological order, and both filter out all the extraneous social nonsense.

Do more with the data: In the ecosystem of services that utilises the data from Strava, one stands head and shoulders above the rest: Veloviewer. For just ?10 per annum for the pro version, Veloviewer will pull in your entire Strava history and present you with a vast array of different ways of presenting that data. My favourite are the tracking graphs that allow you to compare your performances year on year. Here’s my cycling data – I’ve got a bit of work still to do to hit my 6,000km target.

 

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