What is a “Bump” on the Internet?

A big "bump" warning written on the surface of a road.
Michael Vi/Shutterstock.com

Bumping can be one of the most annoying practices on the internet. If you’ve ever seen someone spam a message for no apparent reason, learn why and what they’re trying to communicate.

Bring up my message

On the web, a “bump” is a post or comment made by someone for the sole purpose of increasing the visibility of the primary post. It used to be a staple on message boards, but is now commonly found in group discussions, direct messages, and posts on social media platforms like Facebook and Reddit.

A less popular, but still common, informal definition for a bump is “dance or move to music.” So, for example, you can tell your friend that a song will “run into you.” Alternatively, a bump can refer to the song itself, as in “this song is a bump!”

The origin of punches

The practice of a “bump” has a fairly obvious origin: bulletin boards. These forum websites were extremely common in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with many communities centered around common interests. In those days there was a forum for almost everything: programming, vinyl records, parenting and more. Newer members often became frustrated with the lack of replies to their posts and “bumped” the thread to increase visibility.

The first definition of “bump” on urban dictionary was created in January 2003, making it one of the first entries among the slang terms we’ve covered. It says “in bulletin board terms, to move a post to the top of the forum with a meaningless reply.”

Eventually, punches would find its way into Facebook groups, which were previously sorted chronologically. Bumping was very common in community groups, where people could buy and sell goods to each other. However, changes to Facebook’s algorithm have castrated bumps’ ability to make posts more noticeable.

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Threads and sorting

One of the biggest reasons “bumps” exist is because of the way forums were organized in the early 2000s.

Historically, most message boards split discussion topics into threads made up of posts from different users. By default, forums were sorted by threads with the latest posts. During these early days, users could get their threads to the top of the forum by adding a bump. Members did this to showcase their own discussions, revive old or dead ones, and get people to respond to their questions.

Bump messages weren’t necessarily “bump” and nothing else. Many were meaningless answers, uninteresting news, or repetitive points made earlier in the thread. Some forum moderators were against the practice of punching. Senseless bumping was against the rules and a possible criminal offense in many communities.

However, the chronological sorting has largely disappeared. Instead, social media platforms are now using algorithmic formulas based on user engagement and content to determine your social feed or the order of a group’s posts. Other platforms like Reddit use a “karma” system that allows users to encourage high-quality content.

Due to these changes, message bumping has largely stopped working – although people continue to do it. For example, if you’ve ever scrolled through a buy and sell-focused group on Facebook, you might see a few sales listings with dozens of bumps but no buyers.

RELATED: What is Reddit Karma and how do I get it?

hey reply to me

However, “Bump” has been given a new lease of life in a messaging era. Instead of appearing on bulletin boards and Facebook Marketplaceyou can find it in private messages and group conversations between friends and family.

In this usage, “bump” is synonymous with “reminder”. For example, if your friend sent you a question a few days ago and you didn’t reply, they might message you with “bump.” This can also appear in group threads. For example, if one of your friends is leading a trip with a large group, they may “bump” your flight information a few days before the trip.

You can also use this even if there is no previous message to bump. For example, if you and your friend had a face-to-face conversation where he agreed to send you some documents, you can message him as a casual reminder.

Shocking etiquette

If you’re thinking of posting your post to a social network like Facebook, we don’t recommend it. Not only is bumping useless due to the default sorting systems of most websites, but it can also seem annoying and needy to many users. Some users avoid posts with a lot of bumps and pointless comments.

Bumping your friend about an event invite or about documents they need to fill out is perfectly acceptable. However, you should probably avoid this in your professional emails, as some people find messages like “bumping this to the top of your inbox” annoying. Instead, you can use phrases like “I’d like to follow up on this” or “I just wanted to check in,” which means the same thing.

Are you interested in some other slang terms that come from message boards? View our pieces at ONLTTPand ITT to learn more about this part of internet history.

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