When it comes to GIF repositories there are two major players (putting Tumblr aside since that’s not it’s main purpose…though it kind of is): Giphy and Tenor. Both have worked over the last few years to position themselves as the ultimate warehouse for all your GIF needs, working with media companies to create corporate profiles a la YouTube channels, live-GIF awards shows and more. Tenor in particular has recently branched out into sponsored GIFs.
That company was recently acquired by Google, which stated the purchase was to make it easier to search and find just the right GIF you’re looking for. It plans to integrate Tenor’s library into products like Gboard and more. Not only does this give them a way to keep up with the new language of the internet it also gives them access to that sweet ad revenue Tenor was now pulling in.
Whatever the motivations, one thing is now indisputable: Google now owns a media company. By definition it then is a media company
Let’s be clear and admit that Google has always been a media company, at least back to the days when it bought YouTube, launched Google News and made other moves. The fig leaf it’s hidden behind was that neither of those products produced anything original, it just placed ads against the material other parties posted and/or organized and filtered that content so it could be found via search.
Tenor, like Giphy, makes things though. Neither company has been content to just be a distribution platform but has actively worked with other media companies to do all that live event coverage. It’s actively sought out brand partnerships and helped those brands create GIFs through branded content production studios.
If you create content and own the means of distribution, you’re a media company. So here are my questions for Google now that it can no longer deny that label:
- What Editorial Controls Are In Place Around Tenor Content?: Assuming Google will take the same deeply-flawed approach to content posted by others it takes to YouTube, how will it determine what is or isn’t appropriate? How will it deal with offensive material? What standards will it adhere to when it comes to partner content Tenor creates itself?
- Will Tenor Content Be Given Preferential Placement in Search Results? If So, How Does That Mesh With the Goal To Provide the *Best* Results? With Tenor content being integrated into Google Images search (it already was, but let’s move past that) how will that content rank on SERPs? What happens when sponsored partner content that could lead to revenue isn’t the *best* result over a GIF hosted elsewhere?
- What New Monetization Schemes Will Be Put In Place on Tenor? Tenor has already made inroads into sponsored GIFs. Will those efforts be expanded, with something like a GIF version of YouTube’s Partner Program coming soon? If so, the question of what terms of service creators will have to agree to needs to be asked as well.
- How Will Tenor Compatibility With Social Networks Be Impacted? Tenor already integrates with Gboard but also has connections with Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack and other apps and social networks allowing its GIFs to be found and posted easily. Will those be maintained?
The idea of a company devoted to objective search also owning content platforms has never sat well with me. A general Google search for a video that yielded YouTube-hosted results were always suspect. Were they actually the best videos, or were they ranked more highly because they were on a Google-related property? Now we need to ask these same questions around GIFs.
Google doesn’t need any more reasons for us to question the quality of its search results because of changes it’s making motivated by self-interest. More than ever there needs to be some level of transparency in the search results it displays. That’s not just because of the Tenor acquisition but because of the problems around both Google and YouTube surfacing conspiracy theory videos and stories as “news,” the deal it recently signed to display results from select retailers at the top of “where can I buy X” searches and more.
It even extends to the company’s plans to essentially divide the internet in half, those that play by its “security and accessibility” rules and those that don’t. Overlooked is the fact that no one has granted it the power to unilaterally define the future of the internet or asked it to assume that role. At least no one outside of the company has done so.
If Google is going to be a media company – which is clearly is at this point, making editorial decisions motivated by what it feels users want and will respond to – it needs to answer some fundamental questions around its processes if it wants to maintain the trust it’s currently allocated in the minds of users.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.