Spotify partners with GIPHY to connect users with artists’ music via GIFs

Spotify announced this morning a new partnership with online GIF database GIPHY to enable discovery of new music through GIFs. No, the GIFs themselves won’t play song clips, if that’s what you’re thinking. Instead, through a series of new Spotify-linked GIFs, there will be an option to click a button to be taken to Spotify directly to hear the artist’s music. At launch, artists including Doja CatThe WeekndPost MaloneNicki MinajThe Kid LAROIConan Gray, and others will have Spotify-linked GIFs available on their official GIPHY profile page. More artists will be added over time.

The idea behind the new integration is to help connect users with Spotify music from their everyday communications, like texts, group chats, and other places where GIFs are used. This is similar to Spotify’s existing integrations with social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram, where users can share music through the Stories and messages they post. Essentially, it’s a user acquisition strategy that leverages online social activities — in this case, sharing GIFs — while also benefiting the artists through the exposure they receive.

You can find the new Spotify-linked GIFs on the artist’s page on or through GIPHY’s mobile app. The supported GIFs will include a new “Listen on Spotify” button at the bottom which will appear alongside the GIF when it’s shared. When clicked, users are redirected from the GIF to the artist’s page on Spotify where they can stream their music or browse to discover more songs they want to hear.

Image Credits: Spotify/GIPHY

Spotify says the feature is part of a broader partnership it has with GIPHY, which will later focus on bringing a more interactive listening experience to users.

The move to partner with GIPHY follows a recent expansion of the existing partnership between Spotify and GIPHY’s parent company, Facebook. The social networking giant bought the popular GIF platform in a deal worth a reported $400 million back in 2020, a couple years after Google snatched up GIPHY rival, Tenor. Since then, Facebook has worked to better integrate GIPHY with its apps, like Facebook and Instagram.

Earlier this year, Facebook and Spotify had also teamed up on a new “Boombox” project that allows Facebook users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through the Facebook app. This is powered by a “miniplayer” that allows anyone who comes across the shared music to click to play the content while they scroll their feed.

Spotify says the new feature will be available to users globally from verified GIPHY artists’ pages.

Meet Dongtu, the Giphy of China

With its own universe of homegrown social networks, e-commerce platforms and search engines, the Chinese internet is a world apart from its counterpart in the U.S. But in some areas, the two countries are surprisingly similar. That’s particularly true of people’s love for GIFs .

Some feelings are better expressed in pictures and animations than words. Starting in the 2010s, the onset of smartphones gave rise to the need for portable, flexible ways to send images and videos in chats. GIFs, the 1987-invention otherwise known as the graphics interchange format, is a perfect solution for transmitting lightweight pixels. These endlessly looping images quickly caught on in China, where mobile-first internet has flourished over the last decade.

Noticing the trend, Californian Grant Long moved to China and partnered with local entrepreneurs Ann Ding and Jiaming Yin to create Dongtu, which means “moving pictures” in Chinese. Much like Giphy and Google-owned Tenor, Dongtu runs an in-house creative team that pumps out a bountiful supply of GIFs; it also distributes works of third-party creators such as entertainment studios and contracted designers, as well as popular memes sourced from the web. The startup’s content is then baked into some 3,000 apps with chatting features, including mainstream ones like WeChat, Twitter-like Weibo and Dingtalk, Alibaba’s answer to Slack.

Dongtu claims it generates 750 million daily searches and over 3 billion views per day through the GIFs it provides to third-party platforms. In comparison, its American predecessor Giphy, which uses different performance metrics, had some 300 million daily users as of last March. Aside from tapping into China’s obsession with GIFs, the journey of Dongtu is as much about a foreign entrepreneur carving out his spot in the crowded Chinese market as it is about a budding startup surviving alongside the giants.

Navigating the Chinese internet

Dongtu’s logo

Before his time in China, Long managed product and business development at Swyft Media, a New York-based company that made branded micro-content like stickers and fonts. In 2015, Swyft began working closely with rising messengers Kik, KakaoTalk and Viber, through which Long came to believe that a major growth opportunity was coming up in Asia. He wanted Swyft to enter this part of the world, but it became harder to push for changes after the startup got acquired by publicly-traded Monotype Imaging.

In 2016, Long packed up for China and began studying the market on the ground from Shanghai. Before long, he realized that a fully foreign entity would not be able to succeed alone for “both localization challenges as well as political reasons,” he told TechCrunch in a phone interview. The American entrepreneur approached Biaoqingyun (“Emoji Cloud”), a local sticker startup that would otherwise be his competitor, to partner and create Dongtu together.

“It’s definitely not the case that China is 100% different from America and America is 100% different from China because ultimately, we’re all humans. And we have very similar tendencies of natural behaviors and desires for things,” said Long, who now leads business strategy at Dongtu. “If you have a lot of understanding from another market, a lot of that actually does translate [in a new market]. You just have to localize it in terms of the platforms and services.”

Having a local partner is crucial to navigating local media regulations. Apps in China can get pulled for spreading content that is illegal or simply deemed “inappropriate,” a liability that’s often vaguely defined. Before anything goes live, publishers are compelled to conduct stringent screening and GIF distributors are no exception.

Dongtu does not currently allow open uploads of user-generated content because doing so can be risky in China without significant content moderation efforts. “I’m personally very impressed by [China’s] short video platforms,” said Long. “If you think of the volume of content created and shared, and the fact that they’re able to survive for as long as they have under the oversight that that is required.”

Source: Dongtu

Even with the advance of machine learning technology, Chinese media platforms still rely on large armies of human auditors to address the ever-changing whims of regulators. “Historically, something might be considered appropriate, but now suddenly, it isn’t. I think the risk is that it’s hard to draw a line and decide, well, what makes this piece of content inappropriate and different from this other thing that looks similar but is fine,” noted the founder.

Dealing with Chinese giants

Dongtu has over time found a sweet spot in China’s fierce internet industry by providing the essential content that thousands of apps need to enrich user communication. One big-name client is WeChat. The startup runs a GIF store inside Tencent’s billion-user messenger where users can search for trending GIFs and load up their sticker arsenal.

A less expected partner is e-commerce titan Alibaba. While Amazon shoppers normally make decisions based on what others have to say on the products, Chinese consumers not only pore over reviews but also tend to pose detailed questions to vendors. Direct messaging is thus an inseparable part of Chinese e-commerce apps. Livestreaming has also emerged to allow shoppers and sellers to interact in a real-time manner. GIFs can play a big part in social commerce just like they would lighten up conversations in messengers.

Dongtu GIFs are integrated into the chatting feature of Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace. Source: Dongtu

Chinese users might be similarly into animated images as Americans, but the adaptability of the format is far wider in China. Dongtu’s vast library contains everything from NFL-themed stickers to soap opera memes. “A grandma in a rural city who’s on WeChat can be quite familiar with sending sticker content whereas, in the U.S., I think it’s far more of a young person’s behavior,” Long observed.

The way that Chinese apps adapt GIFs is also reflective of their hands-on approach to the customer journey. Most critically, the majority of Dongtu’s integrations with partners happen through SDK instead of API. The former, which stands for Software Development Kit, gives third-party developers a more “turnkey” user experience. For instance, a Dongtu-powered GIF on China’s largest podcast app Ximalaya can lead to a landing page that Dongtu has predetermined, a process that would not be otherwise achievable through the lightweight Application Programming Interface, which leaves it to the main app to display content the way they want.

In contrast, Giphy and Google-owned rival Tenor were originally built on API integrations. “For us, it’s more like our SDK talking to our back end, so we’re having a two-way conversation with ourselves. It’s decentralized across all these different channels,” suggested Long.

Working with giants brings Dongtu a steady revenue stream — and potential funding opportunities. The rivaling pair Alibaba and Tencent rarely invest in the same startup, but for Long, “the ideal scenario would be if we could raise from both Alibaba and Tencent, because we do so much with both of them.”

Dongtu makes money from a combination of paid consumer functions as well as paid promotions commissioned by marketers who want the brands they represent to be part of people’s GIF-powered communication, including a structure that incentivizes large app partners to co-sell these GIF campaigns to their own large base of direct clients.

Dongtu counts ZhenFund as one of its seed investors. Cheetah Mobile, the Chinese firm known for developing utility apps, led its Series A round. Other investors from these rounds include InnoAngel, a venture fund started by alumni of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, and Creation Ventures, an investment fund specializing in entertainment and content.

GIF and sticker platform Emogi gets $12.6M as the battle of GIF startups continues to heat up

It looks like the capital continues to flow into startups looking to provide some easy way for users to share GIFs, with another startup called Emogi announcing today that it’s raised $12.6 million in a new financing round.

Already there’s an enormous activity in the GIF space, of all things. Google earlier this year acquired Tenor, a GIF platform that supplies a GIF search engine across multiple messaging channels (the company recently added LINE as one service). Tenor earlier had said it had around 12 billion GIF searches every month. Meanwhile, Gfycat, which focuses on creator tools, says it has around 180 million monthly active users with more than 500 million views every month. Giphy, one of the other largest GIF platforms, says it has around 300 million daily active users (and we hear recently held talks for a massive funding round).

So, in total, this is a very hot space, and potentially for good reason. As messenger services — iMessage or otherwise — become the dominant form of communication, users are looking for ways to compress more and more information into a small amount of space. Whether that’s stickers on LINE or animoji for iMessage, there’s a clear hole for companies to find some new or creative way to help users send over what amounts to some snippet of emotion baked into a clip of their favorite game, movie, or huge moment in a basketball game.

“We were looking at the behavior of consumers [in our previous app and] we realized they weren’t even reading the content,” co-founder Travis Montaque said. “They were literally reacting with emoji, and that’s it. That behavior was interesting to us. At the time it was me, a team of several engineers and data scientists, and we decided this way of expressing yourself could increase engagement. We decided we should take a look at how the environment is treating these types of formats, and that caused us to transition the business to being Emogi, working with lead investors to provide richer content experiences across their apps — whether that’s in the camera or the keyboard.”

Partners integrate Emogi’s SDK into their keyboards, which then sends information about the user’s context — like typing or other attributes — to figure out the best GIFs to show and drop a model onto the phone. Montaque, however, stressed that delivers the model to a user’s keyboard and does analysis on the device without sending any info back to its servers about the user’s conversations. Amid the massive privacy-related snafu Facebook faces, it does seem like many of these communications companies are tuning their tone to emphasize that. That information includes views, shares, and other kinds of information about what type of content users engage with as a means to understand what content to deprecate over time.

There’s also a consumer-facing side with the Emogi app, where users can move up stickers or GIFs within messaging services. Emogi’s goal is to surface that content directly based on context, rather than providing a search engine like something like Tenor. Obviously that search component was a tantalizing one, as Google found it an attractive company to acquire. But Tenor, too, sought to find ways to figure out the exact right GIF for the exact right moment — and removing that clicking around and lowering the barrier to getting a GIF out the door is one that makes sense in the scope of messaging.

Like some other GIF platforms (including Tenor), Emogi works with brands like Proctor and Gamble to give them an alternative vertical for their marketing efforts that can capture a different slice of a user’s behavior outside of the advertising juggernauts. All of this is still in the sort of experimental case — while some of these platforms have a lot of engagement, they obviously aren’t Facebook — it does offer a second or third option to the traditional firms as a way to find new buckets of users that they might otherwise not reach.

But all this does mean Emogi is entering an increasingly crowded space, and one that larger companies are definitely starting to take notice. While platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn look to tap ones like Tenor, it’s clear that all these companies are seeing that figuring out a way to compress that emotion into a short window is increasingly important when it comes to messaging. It may be that Tenor and Giphy end up building a strong enough content base and moat, though alternative players like Gfycat are still showing they’re able to grow. Montaque says the company’s content shows up in messaging apps around 1 billion times a month, which seems like at least a good start to see if it can keep rolling.

Gfycat starts rolling out 360 degree GIF content

GIFs offer a way to compress a ton of information into a small amount of space, and while Gfycat has positioned itself as more of a short-form video centric platform, it’s going to take a step further to see what a step beyond a standard GIF looks like.

The company today said it would be rolling out 360 degree GIF-like short form videos, which will allow users to plant themselves in the middle of what is effectively a looping video like a GIF. While that presents much more of a challenge to users for generating content, CEO Richard Rabbat said the proliferation of tools like 3D cameras and content from the actual producers like video studios would make it an increasingly popular way to interact with short-form content in a compact form factor.

“We’ve always thought that GIFs are amazing from many perspectives,” Rabbat said. “That goes beyond whether you’re looking at the content to use it in messaging, or you’re consuming it for entertainment value, or you’re using it for decoration in the case of the augmented reality effort we’re working on. We want people to really get excited about how they consume the content to the point where they can see the subjects of the content in a much more lifelike way, and really get excited about that.”

It’s not going to be all that unfamiliar from 360 degree videos you might find on Facebook or other platforms. Users on desktop can use their mouse to move a GIF around, while on mobile devices users can pan their phone around in order to see different parts of the GIF. The idea is to give users a way to have a more robust interaction with a piece of content like a GIF in a compact experience without having to strap on a VR headset or anything along those lines.

The company is starting off by rolling out some 360 degree content from Paramount, which is producing 360 degree content around its Mission Impossible films. And while a lot of content on Gfycat — or other platforms — comes from shows, movies or games along those lines, it makes more sense for those studios to use these kinds of tools to increase awareness for their shows or movies.

via Gfycat

There are a lot of companies working on figuring out the best messaging experiences around GIFs. But Google acquiring Tenor, a GIF search tool that works across multiple platforms, may have set a bare minimum bar for the value of companies that are looking to help users share GIFs with their friends. Gfycat positions itself as something that’s geared toward more creator tools, and recently said it hit 180 million monthly active users.

“We’re creating experiences that we think are going to enable others and inspire others to create that same kind of content,” Rabbat said.” We expect it’s going to be a subset of what people do with 2D, but a much more immersive experience where people will spend more time looking at the content. From a consumption perspective, by not requiring people to put on VR headsets, we’re making it much more consumer friendly.”

Gfycat ramps up its focus on game clips and highlights as it hits 180M monthly users

Gfycat is already a pretty popular host for lots of content like short clips from shows and movies, but there’s also a pretty substantial store of content centered around gaming — which is why the company is starting to put some extra focus on it.

Gfycat, which is centered around creator tools to make those short-form video clips and GIFs, said it’s going to create an interface specifically designed for gamers. Called “Gfycat for gaming,” the startup hopes to ride both the wave of ever-omnipresent GIFs getting shared around the internet and popular, highly shareable game titles like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Rocket League. GIFs serve as a pretty good vehicle for delivering highlight reel clips for those games, which is why it’s going to be putting some extra focus on that audience. Gaming is one of the most popular verticals on Gfycat, CEO Richard Rabbat said.

“As we were looking at different verticals, gaming is such a strong vertical, and we wanted gamers to get an experience that just really speaks to what they’re looking for,” he said. “We wanted to just focus on that as opposed to content that was much more mixed. You see a lot of teams or players that will play for hours, but that exciting moment was like 10 seconds or 20 seconds. They want to capture them and keep them, to chat about them, and share them.”

While the platforms are certainly a big component of this, creator tools for getting that content onto the Internet is also a pretty big segment. That’s what Gfycat focuses on, and the company says it has 180 million monthly active users, which is up from 130 million monthly active users in October last year. The service has more than 500 million page views every month, Rabbat said.

There are two changes that are coming with this update: first, there will be a direct home for gaming highlights on Gfycat, where users can follow creators in that area; second, the time limit for Gfycat clips is growing to around 60 seconds instead of just 15, which is a soft change the company made in the past few months. Both are geared toward making content more shareable in order to grab those highlights, which might not just fall into 15 second buckets. Down the line, the company will start working on subscribing to specific channel.

“A lot of gaming moments are created in 10 or 15 seconds,” Rabbat said. “Some of the gamers have been asking us for a longer period. We moved from 15 seconds to 60 seconds so people can share exciting experiences that take a little more time. GIFs are not only just a moment but also it’s a bit of storytelling. We wanted people to have the ability to do that storytelling.”

GIFs are already a big market, and there has even been some activity from the major players looking to dive further into that type of content. Earlier this month, Google acquired Tenor, a GIF platform that has its own keyboard and integrates with a variety of messenger services — even ones like LinkedIn. That a tool like Tenor or Giphy has grown to encompass all those messaging tools is just a further example of how much of an opportunity platforms centered around GIFs have.

The short-form video clips, as Gfycat likes to label them, are a good form factor for compressing a lot of information into a unit of content that’s easy to share among friends or an audience on the Internet. Rather than just sending a text message, a GIF can convey some element of emotion alongside just the typical information or response some user is trying to achieve. That’s led to a big boom for those companies, with Tenor hitting 12 billion GIF searches every month as an example.

GIF search is coming to LinkedIn messaging through Google’s GIF engine Tenor

Tenor is now going to exclusively power GIF searches in LinkedIn messaging after Google a few weeks ago, adding yet another service to its already pretty large portfolio of messaging platforms.

Tenor has long positioned itself as a GIF search tool working across a number of different platforms, ranging from its own keyboard to Facebook Messenger. As such, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Google — a search platform — decided to acquire the company toward the end of march. Tenor at the time said it powered more than 12 billion GIF searches every month, and that kind of search volume fits pretty neatly with Google’s quest to index the world’s information in a way that’s easily searchable. LinkedIn adds another component to that Swiss army knife, and it also gives Google another entry point to a different platform when it comes to some variation of GIF search.

The new engine is available for 50% of users today, and will be rolling out to more users over time. This gives LinkedIn messenger a robust GIF search platform, as well as ways to find trending GIFs, as well as a custom trending stream based on GIFs most often found in their network.

GIFs are increasingly popular in messaging apps, and Tenor is one example of how it’s become almost table stakes for any messenger platform. While LinkedIn is mostly a place where you’d expect to be closing deals and acquiring customers — or searching for a job — it doesn’t really change the core value proposition of what a GIF provides. Companies like Tenor seek to position GIFs as a way to compress more information (or some kind of emotion) into a compact form factor that has very little friction inside a messenger platform.

Tenor is going to exclusively power the GIF search engine, which is going to be another pretty substantial win for Google as it looks to expand its search capabilities into other areas of the Internet — even if it’s just a consumer-oriented GIF format. Tenor can places sponsored GIFs inside its quick search interface, offering brands a unique opportunity to capture the attention of users as well as creating a new advertising category that could be very appealing for larger marketers. Google, at its heart, is an advertising business and finding these new use cases (even if it doesn’t plan to get started on them right away) is something that would fit neatly inside its model.

This also gives Google a unique entry point into different platforms, including even Facebook Messenger, which may seek to find GIF search platforms and use them indiscriminately. Google already has its own keyboard with GBoard. As Google looks to further integrate with a typical user’s lifestyle, tapping the popularity (and potential) of GIFs is something that will be important down the line.

Messages on LinkedIn have grown 60% year-over-year, the company said as part of the announcement, as messaging increasingly becomes a core component of any platform that has any kind of sticky human communication component. That’s especially important for trying to explain the nuance behind a connection while building that relationship through a faux-warm intro as well as finding ways to appeal to customer acquisition. Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in mid 2016 for $26.2 billion, essentially picking up one of the largest customer acquisition channels in the world.

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.

Gfycat looks to be a hub of content for AR experience development

If all goes well, some GIF creators may start seeing their GIFs show up in augmented reality experiences, based on a new deal that’s happening with Gfycat this morning.

Gfycat said it would be working with a company called Metaverse that, like many tools of its kind, is looking to make it easier to build applications in a more plug-and-play matter — this time for building augmented reality apps. Gfycat has more than 130 million monthly active users and in particular gears its tools toward creators, and this could be another step in helping those creators get their content out to the masses as activity in augmented reality starts to continue to pick up. It’s certainly not that pretty right now, but these small agreements can sometimes be the start of increasingly robust toolsets for developers.

To be sure, there’s a number of caveats. The most obvious one is that the GIFs created by those creators have to have a transparent background. After all, it would be weird for them to show up in the real world with a weird kind of background that blocks off the rest of reality and kind of sack the whole “augmented reality” concept. But at the same time, it does start to offer a kind of pseudo-home for creators that are looking to crack into AR as well as also offering developers looking to build games or other apps and opportunity to have easy access to content to get started.

We’ve seen from the explosion of games like Pokémon Go and others that augmented reality games are increasingly going to be A Thing. Niantic may have created a pivotal use case for that with a strong brand, but while looking a bit janky right now, it’s possible that a simple game developer might figure out some niche use case in AR that will actually blow up. That starts with having access to good content, and something like this would help get them started.

All this might be completely moot if Apple and others roll out an increasingly simple interface for AR app development like more robust tools in ARkit, where developers would just sidestep platforms like Metaverse in order to just build their own interfaces. But having a hub of content to start from is also an important step in figuring out where to even begin.

The GIF space is increasingly blowing up. We’ve already talked about how a bunch of these major platforms are continuing to grow with Giphy saying it has 300 million daily active users. Tenor, another GIF platform, meanwhile nets around 12 billion searches a month for its own GIFs.

Giphy held talks to raise a massive new funding round

 We’re hearing from a number of sources that Giphy, the big platform for hosting GIFs that also runs a GIF keyboard, held talks to raise huge new financing round — though it’s not clear if it ever crossed the finish line. Sources pegged the round at something as high as around $100 million, but that may have changed over time. We’ve been hearing about this for some time… Read More

Tenor hits 12B searches in its GIF keyboard every month

 David McIntosh’s startup Tenor builds a GIF keyboard — but he actually hopes you’ll spend as little time searching on it as possible. Instead, Tenor’s aim has been to collapse the amount of time it takes for you to find a GIF you like and send it to a friend. Instead of trying to get people to come to the service and kind browse around on the keyboard or a different… Read More