Earlier this week I started doing DAILY, a podcast, on Bumpers. Bumpers is a neat app for iPhone and web that lets people record, edit, and share bumpers. A bumper is like a podcast but more personal and usually much shorter—think less than 10 minutes.
Just so I’m clear, Bumpers is the name of the app and bumpers (a.k.a episodes) are what one creates with Bumpers.
Bumpers are to podcast episodes as what tweets are to blog posts. Bumpers can be longer, just like podcasts, but it seems like 5 minutes is the sweet spot.
I forget how I came across Bumpers, but on Thursday I ended up on their website and was immediately drawn in by the concept and aesthetic. I started listening to a few different bumpers, and I wanted to give it a go, so I started to turn over ideas in my head. I thought it would be fun to record something every day for two weeks and see how it goes.
For years I have experimented with making podcasts, but it takes a considerable amount of time, money, and energy to record, edit, and publish them. That’s why Bumpers is great. Creating an episode is as simple as speaking into the iPhone’s microphone, editing it in the app, and publishing it—all for free.
The process of recording, editing, and publishing a bumper is really intuitive. All you do is start recording, talk, and tap stop when you’re done. The bumper can then be edited. Fixing mistakes and adding new sections is easy. Looping background music can be inserted, as well as segues. A feature about Bumpers that I really like is the ability to label sections, like chapters in book.
When editing a bumper, the audio is displayed as a horizontal timeline and is broken down into chunks, seemingly based upon pauses in sound. Each chunk can be muted or unmuted, which makes cutting out silence and unwanted parts as easy as tapping the section as it scrolls by.
The editing experience is the best I have ever used in audio software before. It’s really simple and fun. The app has a ton of segue music and sound effects, which are hilarious and/or impactful when used well.
The iPhone app has weekly prompts to give people inspiration for what to talk about, if needed. They are interesting to think about, and I like listening to different people’s answers. It is one of the main ways I have found different folks’ profiles. A couple questions so far have been: “Would you survive the zombie apocalypse?” and “Who is your idol (and why)?”
It would be nice to be able to edit the title and description of a bumper to fix typos—although maybe not being able to is intentional, similar to how tweets are not editable.
Some people use their Bumpers profile for creating what one would think of as a regular podcast show and others use it for sharing one-off random thoughts. I think both work well.
Bumpers can only be recorded in the iPhone app, but both the iPhone app and web app can be used to listen to episodes. Both listening experiences are pretty good, but I think they could be made better. There’s a strange amount of sports related content that dominates the popular feeds, which is cool for people who like sports, but that’s not my thing at all.
One of my favorite things about listening to traditional podcasts is creating a playlist of episodes and listening to them while I do non-focused activities like cleaning, cooking, and walking. Since bumpers are usually pretty short in length, it would be awesome to be able to queue them up into a Listen Later feed, like Vimeo’s Watch Later. That way if I come across some bumpers on Twitter that want to listen to, I can make my way through them on my phone later in one fell swoop.
Currently there is no way to favorite/heart/insert-affectionate-verb-here episodes. After listening to an episode I really like, it would be cool to be able to favorite it so that I can listen to it again in the future. Having the ability to favorite a bumper would also let the creators know that someone enjoyed what they made. I have been trying to tweet at folks to let them know I enjoyed their episodes, but that requires a bit of groundwork.
A little quirk about the iPhone app is that the audio does not play through the native interface, like the Music app and other podcast apps. When the phone is locked, the playback controls and show art aren’t displayed on the lock screen. And, if audio starts playing from another source, it plays over the bumper, which happens to me regularly when I try to use the pause button on my headphones to pause the currently playing bumper. It would be nice if the app made use of the native audio listening interface on iPhone.
All-in-all, the listening experiences on the web app and iPhone app are pretty good but could be made better. Since listening bumpers are restricted to the app, I think it’s important that the listening experience be as good or better as the other podcast apps on iPhone.
My Favorite Bumpers
A highlight of Bumpers is the variety of voices on it. People’s bumpers range from funny to serious. It breaks the traditional podcast episode structure, which tend to be an hour long (or even more). While I enjoy longer podcast episodes, it is a commitment that feels best suited for commutes, doing chores, or going on long walks. Bumpers, on the other hand, have a much lower barrier to entry to create and consume, which I think leads to more voices and opinions. It feels like a really healthy thing for the medium.
Here are my favorite bumpers thus far.
For some reason I find focaccia controversy more hilarious every time I listen to it:
Self portrait. is something I can relate to:
Bad Asian: Combined Test Not Perfect is the first episode of Bad Asian, and it’s about the creator’s family’s experience being Asian-Americans. I really enjoyed hearing the perspectives of the creator’s grandmother and her cousin:
I feel like a bad millennial for not understanding Snapchat, and this little guide helped me better get it:
Don’t touch my hair explains in 17 minutes why it’s important to not touch other people’s hair, and Bruja Baby explains it very well:
And finally, shell shares her Tinder stories every so often as part of tinder tuesday. I’ve never used Tinder, so hearing stories about it really fascinates me. Shell’s stories are hilarious:
Concerns & Conclusion
Bumpers is free to use which makes it more accessible, but that has me a little concerned because I can’t help but wonder how they’ll make money to sustain the business and app. Ad revenue comes to mind, but seeing or hearing a bunch of ads would be a bummer. That has me a little worried because if it goes away, I wonder what’ll happen to all the episodes. It’d be disappointing for all of them to disappear.
Podcasts being distributed by nature—not being tied to any specific platform—has ups and downs. Setting up a traditional podcast is expensive. Hosting is about $12/mo for most providers, which for 10 years would be $1,440 total. That’s a big expense for a fun experiment or side project that one wants to keep available for download on the web. Also, audio editing tools like Audacity and GarageBand have so many bells and whistles, which make them overwhelming. The ups being that podcasts are not tied to distributors, so they can be consumed through a variety of methods and channels. With Bumpers it is either through the iOS app, web app, or embeds.
I’d be down to pay for Bumpers, but I think it would have to be pretty affordable. So much software wants to charge customers every month, usually $5~10, and I am very reluctant to pay for many services for that much monthly. They start to add up quickly. I’d also imagine that charging for the service would lessen the number of people using it too because it would increase the barrier to entry.
Something important to me is that platforms that want people to create content that only lives in their ecosystem need to build trust with those creators. So many startups and services fade away, and it’s tough to want to create content on a service that could potentially go away and would be out of one’s control.
I am going to keep using Bumpers and making bumpers. I am excited to see where it goes. The community of people making bumpers seems unique and small enough that it is not overwhelming. I’m hopeful that it’ll continue to get better. It has been a total blast so far this week, and I hope it continues to exist far into the future.