Google GOOGL +1.12% owns search intent. Facebook FB -0.23% owns the social graph. But the “emotional graph” is still up for grabs — or so goes the argument David McIntosh, cofounder and CEO of the mobile GIF keyboard and search engine Tenor.
Tenor isn’t as well known as some big-name GIF engine competitors like Giphy, which has raised about $150 million in venture funding to date, most recently at an estimated valuation of $600 million. However, Tenor now powers 300 million GIF searches daily (up from 200 million daily searches in February) through its mobile GIF keyboard and hundreds of integrations with communications apps like Apple AAPL -1.7%’s iMessage, Google’s smart keyboard app Gboard, Facebook Messenger, TwitterTWTR -0.79%, WhatsApp, LinkedIn LNKD +0%, Slack , Discord and Kik. Tenor, which launched on mobile, also says it powers more shares of the short, looping videos and animations than any other tool.
“A lot of people look at GIFs and see something fun and silly, but really what gets us up every day is that GIFs are a better way to convey thoughts, feelings and emotions at a time when attention has shrunk,” McIntosh said in an interview at Tenor’s San Francisco headquarters. McIntosh is pointing to a display of the company’s “Emotional Graph,” a digital map that links GIFs with keywords, topics, feelings, moods and brands to help people retrieve GIFs that best fit their mood or what’s top of mind, like “Friyay,” “hungry,” or “dance.”
“Beneath the surface, Tenor is really all about a new type of search engine — one that’s emotion-based, that more than 300 million times per day, is matching people’s thoughts and emotions with a digital object — the GIF.”
While GIFs were first invented three decades ago and popularized by websites like MySpace, Imgur, Tumblr and Giphy, they have only been readily available within mobile keyboards for about three years. Now, about 70% of Americans ages 8 to 64 years old (about 200 million people) know how to send a GIF, and nearly half of those consumers send at least one GIF per week according to consumer research firm Magid Advisors. Magid’s President Michael Vorhaus says it’s hard to precisely estimate how rapidly GIF-sharing can grow. However, in two to three years, Vorhaus says mobile shares of GIFs could grow by 1,000%, generating $1 billion or $2 billion in total annual advertising revenue.
“It’s not going to be small,” Vorhaus said of the business opportunity of mobile GIFs. “It’s the classic ‘picture is a thousand words.’ People love photos, love videos and GIFs let consumers be very verbal in one message.”
Since launching three years ago, Tenor has secured foothold in the steadily growing space of mobile GIF-sharing, where it also competes with Giphy. Tenor’s “GIF Keyboard” is the most downloaded app in its category on both iOS and Android, according to analytics firm App Annie, and over the past two years, Tenor’s average keyboard download ranking has been roughly twice as high as Giphy’s on iOS and Android. Tenor’s GIF bot is also the most-used chat bot on Facebook Messenger, and its iMessage app is the no. 2 free app on Apple’s messaging “App Platform,” behind GamePigeon.
Tenor says it can’t disclose usage figures specific to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Google because of the nature of its partnership agreements. However, Tenor says its standalone Tenor GIF Keyboard on iOS and Android generate nearly 20% of all Tenor-powered searches, with the typical user accessing their keyboard more than 50 times per month. In the past year, Tenor has doubled its headcount to 43 people, opened offices in Los Angeles and New York and launched its nascent advertising business, which began generating revenue earlier this year. (Tenor hasn’t disclosed revenue figures.)
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