Apple has purchased social analytics firm Topsy, which focuses on parsing data from Twitter, reports The Wall Street Journal. The deal was apparently worth ‘more than $200M’ according to the publication.
Topsy is one of several firms that have been focused on gathering and parsing data from Twitter’s platform. It allows customers to tap into a store of over 425 billion tweets from 2006 onwards to sniff out trends. Topsy competitors in the Twitter data reselling game include DataSift and Gnip, but its user-facing tools, including a topic and trends search engine, have made it one of the more popular options for those looking to make sense of the stuff people are tweeting about.
Given that Apple is a Twitter partner already, and hosts login and posting features for the social network on its iOS and OS X platforms, this seems like a confusing deal if all that it’s after is the Twitter data firehose. It seems more likely that Topsy has technology or engineers (read: acqui-hire) that can parse trends in a way that Apple wants to incorporate into one of its products.
If I had to hazard a guess, this might be related to Apple building out the relevancy engine of its App and iTunes Stores. Adding social signals to the search algorithms of its stores could help to improve the relevance of search results and help Apple surface apps that are hotter and more interesting to users. Tracking app trends across social networks would allow them to fine tune categories and collections of apps, and surface apps that are gaining steam more quickly.
Pulling the thread out a bit further, it’s possible that Apple could even use the data from your Twitter feeds to recommend apps on a more personal basis, rather than ‘generically’ to everyone. Apple has done little of this kind of personalized recommendation work to this point, but there’s always a first time for everything.
The WSJ article points to iTunes Radio ads and the iAd platform as possible beneficiaries of the Topsy engine, too. Apple could theoretically use social data to help advertisers display ads to more relevant viewers. This would boost revenue and relevance across Apple’s ad platforms, which haven’t been incredibly robust so far.
Apple purchased the app search company Chomp last year, but ended up using mostly its ‘card-like’ interface, not what some viewed to be its superior discovery model. Unfortunately, the acquisition did not lead to a massive improvement in app store search results. Apple has recently been tweaking results to better correct for misspellings and mis-typing when searching the store.
There is also a slim possibility that Apple may want to use Topsy’s stored trends data and firehose access to improve Siri search. It could provide Siri with a reliable way to present people with trending topics and search results according to Twitter when queried.
Topsy has also filed for over a dozen patents related to social networks. These include systems and methods for prediction-based crawling of social media network and systems and methods for customized filtering and analysis of social media content collected over social networks.
As one of only a handful of companies with Twitter firehose access, and one of Twitter’s first Certified Product partners, Topsy’s purchase will change the market for those left behind.
Whatever use Topsy’s team or product is put to, its strengths came in real-time parsing of enormous data sets, so it would be something that was time-sensitive or able to be continuously affected by a feed of information. It shows that Apple has a growing interest in the data flowing through networks like Twitter, which is a refreshing notion. The company has not typically been bullish in this arena previously. Apple confirmed the purchase with the WSJ.