Apple has acquired social media analytics company Topsy for upwards of $200 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Topsy is a leading provider of analytics for Twitter, using its access to Twitter’s data to understand the sentiments of Twitter users and measure the effectiveness of Twitter campaigns, hashtags and tweets. Topsy also maintains a searchable archive of all tweets in history, some 425 billion tweets from 2006 onward.
The value of Topsy is unquestionable, but why a hardware company like Apple would pay over $200 million to acquire it is another story. Unlike previous acquisitions by Apple, including HopStop, a transit directions app which might boost Apple’s Maps app, and Primesense, the company that built the 3D sensor for the first Xbox Kinect, Topsy doesn’t seem to have a direct connection to any existing Apple product. Apple is not a social company after all, so why would it purchase a social media analytics master?
Ross Rubin, an independent analyst for Reticle Research, speculates that Apple could use Topsy’s analytical prowess to make smarter recommendations for things like apps, music and movies for purchase in the App and iTunes stores, using feedback from social media to determine which apps are hot at the moment. Rob Bailey, chief executive of Topsy competitor DataSift, told the New York Times that Topsy might bolster Siri’s voice search capabilities by providing access to the vast amounts of unstructured content on Twitter. Others speculate that access to social data could help Apple improve its ad targeting on the iAd platform, which has yet to take off, and iTunes Radio.
TechCrunch points out another possible benefit brought to Apple by Topsy: the analytics company has filed for over a dozen patents related to social networks, including systems for prediction-based crawling and customized filtering of social media content.
Despite the speculation, one thing’s for sure: Apple won’t release the real reasoning behind the acquisition any time soon. An Apple spokesperson told the Journal that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”