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Strava uses AI to eliminate cheaters from the leaderboard; reveals “family plan”, dark mode and more

Strava announced a host of new features and updates at its annual Camp Strava event on Thursday, as the San Francisco-based company doubles down on its efforts to make its social fitness app stickier for both free subscribers and premium – with artificial intelligence (AI) playing. a central role.

One of the recurring complaints coming from the Strava community is that users sometimes cheat to reach high positions in the app’s rankings. Leaderboards are one of Strava’s core features, designed to drive competition by allowing users to challenge each other on predefined routes called “segments.” Cheating might involve using a motorcycle rather than a pedal bike to set a record, for example.

Strava already has some mechanisms in place to allow users to manually report questionable leaderboard activity, and last year the company updated its algorithms to “make leaderboards more credible.” This included withholding activities that might have been incorrectly labeled (for example, users labeling a run as a bike ride) or where faulty GPS data might be at play.

Now, Strava says it will begin using more sophisticated machine learning to detect “questionable” activities when they are uploaded to the platform and automatically remove said activities. The company says it does this by training its algorithms on millions of historical activities to better understand what “normal” activity looks like.

Apparently, this is one of Strava’s most requested features, with a quick look at its fervent online community revealing various ideas on how to deal with the so-called “digital doping” problem.

Strava: Ranking Integrity Powered by AI
Strava: Ranking Integrity Powered by AI
Image credits: Strava

When pressed to provide more details on how it works and exactly how it differs from its existing automated ranking integrity tools, product manager Matt Salazar simply said it was a “step change” in how Strava uses AI, machine learning and other technologies to “fill the gaps.”

“Last year, the team implemented new logic rules for existing auto-scoring tools, and now we’re leveraging newer technologies to deliver one of our most requested features by athletes,” Salazar said in a statement released to TechCrunch.

On a related note, Strava on Thursday announced the private beta of a feature it calls “athlete intelligence,” which amounts to generative AI that analyzes user data to create summaries and advice on their performance and fitness goals. This will be available only to premium subscribers.

Strava hasn’t confirmed whether the underlying engine is one of OpenAI’s GPT-X models or something else, but Salazar said the company is currently experimenting with different technologies with an eye toward wider deployment.

“We looked at several models and tools and are currently applying a model that works for beta,” Salazar said. “We continue to evaluate what will provide the best outcome for our community.”

Strava
Strava’s “Athlete Intelligence”
Image credits: Strava

Strava is also introducing dark mode, which, according to Strava Community Hub data, is the second most wanted app feature in terms of number of votes.

It’s taken a while, certainly compared to other popular apps – last week, WhatsApp went so far as to launch an even “darker” dark mode.

However, better late than never. Strava says it will introduce dark mode “later this summer”, with the option to keep the app permanently in dark mode or configure it to match the device settings. This will be available to premium and free users when it launches.

Strava's new dark mode
Strava’s new dark mode
Image credits: Strava

It’s (not strictly) a family affair

Similar to other online subscription services such as Spotify, Strava now leverages what it calls a “family plan” to incentivize mass signups through subscription discounts and entice more people to use the platform. Up to four people, including the primary subscriber, can be included in a family plan.

But “family plan” is actually a somewhat misnomer here, as it doesn’t necessarily have to include actual family members or even anyone living at the same address. This can be anyone living in the same country.

“This will create more opportunities for Strava athletes to continue to find and feel motivation, and it will also make this more cost-effective,” Salazar said. “The benefit of this new annual subscription is that you choose who is part of your family plan: it could be your friends, your racing team or your teammates.”

Playing liberally with the definition of “family” in this context makes sense, given that families won’t consume Strava in the same way they would Netflix or Spotify. But the plan’s name could confuse some users about who is eligible for coverage. Maybe a “group subscription plan” or something like that might make more sense.

Strava family plan
Strava family plan
Image credits: Strava

Regardless, Strava is still a little cagey on the details, including the amount of this bulk discount (it says the savings percentage will vary by country), how one shares their subscription, and what happens in case. of a “family” impact – can a member of a group easily keep their own account and their own data, for example?

The new plan will begin in “select countries” this summer, starting with Australia and Canada, with a wider international rollout later in the year.

These announcements come during a turbulent time for Strava. Co-founder Michael Hovrath recently resigned as CEO for the second time and was replaced in January by former YouTube executive Michael Martin. The company also hired a new chief technology officer (CTO) last month alongside Salazar, who left Epic Games to join Strava as chief product officer.

The news also comes a year after Strava introduced a new premium pricing structure that drew widespread criticism due to its lack of transparency.

However, it’s clear that Strava is trying to strengthen its value proposition for users, borrowing some proven tricks from the broader social media sphere. The importance of Strava’s social positioning cannot be understated in terms of differentiating it from other data-centric fitness tracking services, such as Apple Fitness or Garmin. That’s why Strava rolled out in-app messaging last year, intended to foster communities that exist entirely within Strava without having to rely on third-party messaging apps like WhatsApp to organize events and rides .

These new updates build on that, mixing free features available to everyone with premium features for power users.

Demographic data

One way Strava can attract new users is by broadening its appeal to different demographics. It’s doing just that with an upcoming new feature that builds on its existing global heatmaps feature, which highlights the most popular running, riding, and walking routes.

Going further, ‘nighttime heatmaps’, when launched later this year, will focus specifically on activities that take place between sunset and sunrise, which could be useful for those looking to get outside take a walk or jog in less crowded places. areas. Strava hopes this will help encourage more women to start using the platform, although in reality it will appeal to anyone who wants to avoid quieter places in the wee hours.

“Studies show that women of all ages participate in sports far less than men, and overall, although they want to be active, they find less time to devote to an active lifestyle,” wrote Strava in a blog post accompanying the announcements. “As the company continues its mission of motivating people to lead active lives, building for women on the platform will ultimately serve everyone in the Strava community.”

Additionally, not everyone wants to share all of their activity data with everyone at all times. Thus, Strava announced the launch of a new “quick edit” feature which will allow users to more easily hide certain measures of their training statistics, the type of activity they did, their location, etc.

Although “quick edit” is free, Strava says nighttime heatmaps will be a premium feature, meaning anyone wanting to see which routes are safest after dark will have to fork out $12/month or $80/year to access it.

Strava has not confirmed how many of its 125 million members are active users, or what the gender breakdown is. But the company previously reported that women are “23% less likely than men to record any type of activity before sunrise, and 8% less likely to do so after sunset.”

But Salazar said some demographics are showing signs of growth on the platform.

“While we don’t provide exact details about the Strava community as a whole, what we can share is that globally and in the United States, our user demographic of women from Generation Z has seen strong growth, bringing it to twice what it was. It was this time last year,” he said.

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