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Google is acquiring GIF platform Tenor

Google will be acquiring Tenor, which powers a variety of GIF keyboards on phones and messengers like Facebook Messenger, the companies announced today.

Tenor will continue to operate as a separate brand within Google, the company said in a blog post. Tenor has increasingly positioned itself as a search company, using that as a metric for engagement and success as users tap into a massive database of GIFs. The company said it has more than 12 billion searches every month, and is one of the first major exits for a small but relatively hot space around tools that allow users to easily share GIFs. The company works with advertisers to create sponsored GIFs that slot into its searches, which are usually pretty compact and offer an opportunity to generate a lot of engagement.

GIFs have increasingly been pretty interesting because they offer an opportunity to compress a lot of information into something that’s easily shareable. Tenor CEO David McIntosh will often say that the company is about conveying emotion — and really, that isn’t something that often goes very well over text. If you’re watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, you’re probably better off searching for a GIF of your team rather than just blasting a text message to your group of friends.

“With their deep library of content, Tenor surfaces the right GIFs in the moment so you can find the one that matches your mood,” Google Images director of engineering Cathy Edwards said. “Tenor will help us do this more effectively in Google Images as well as other products that use GIFs, like Gboard. Tenor will continue to operate as a separate brand, and we’re looking forward to investing in their technology and relationships with content and API partners. So whether you’re using the Tenor keyboard or one of our other products, you can expect to see much more of this in your future:”

When you open Tenor, you’ll only find a small slice of GIFs that are available as the company is looking to compress the amount of time you actually spending digging around for a GIF you want to share. The theory is that if it’s easier to find and share one, you’ll do it again and again. This isn’t dissimilar from Google’s approach either, offering itself as a utility that’s a quick get-in, get-out experience that builds a level of stickiness that’s hard to unseat. Google is, of course, worth hundreds of billions of dollars off the back of a massive advertising business that basically prints money.

Tenor isn’t the only one in the space. Giphy, for example, also has a GIF keyboard and has a pretty large database of GIFs. Giphy says it has 300 million daily active users, though depending on who you talk to in the Valley that can mean a couple different things. Nevertheless, all of these companies have been able to attract venture financing. There’s also Gfycat, which positions itself as a tool for creators, that says it has 130 million monthly active users.

The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. But by positioning itself as a search company that slots into a messaging ecosystem, Tenor seems like a natural piece of the puzzle for Google. It also gives the company a small wedge into the messenger space as it’ll have an opportunity to touch all the platforms that are connected to Tenor like even Facebook messenger, though that one tends to flip between GIF platforms indiscriminately.

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