Um, what now? Apple buys Twitter analytics service Topsy for $200m

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Headlines beginning with the words “Apple acquires” are nothing new in the tech space — after all, the tech giant bought 15 smaller companies in fiscal 2013, which roughly works out to a purchase every three to four weeks. But the latest item on Apple’s shopping list is a bit different from the usual fare — it’s a social media analytics service.

If you’re involved in the online marketing or digital publishing space, you’ve probably heard of Topsy — it’s a powerful tool to find out what (or who) people are talking about on Twitter, track trends over time, identify influential users and generally monitor conversations. The company is one of Twitter’s certified data resellers and analytics partners, which means it has direct access to Twitter’s firehose — a holy grail for data junkies, as it can give a more accurate picture of the entirety of historical and real-time posts on a topic, not just an estimated indication based on the limited volume of queries Twitter allows through its API. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, Topsy is set to be acquired by Apple for more than US$200-million.

While Apple has confirmed the move, it (as usual) hasn’t given any indication of what it plans to do with the analytics service. It has been pretty easy to figure out Apple’s plans for some of its more recent buyouts — Siri and Cue aim to make your phone a personal assistant, fingerprint sensor and security company AuthenTec played a part in TouchID, and that new purchase of the Israeli company behind the Kinect’s 3D sensor could have interesting consequences for future TV products. But why would Apple be interested in Twitter analytics?

The best guess is that Apple plans to use Topsy’s data mining prowess to help with recommending apps and songs to iTunes users (by plugging into what is being discussed on Twitter), or simply use its social data to help predict interest and trends. As Topsy can help identify keywords by geography, it could also help provide more tailored recommendations based on a user’s location. The simple scale at which Topsy analyses data — it processes 500-million tweets a day and can pull tweets from as far back as Twitter’s founding year (2006) — may be an attractive selling point for Apple. But it seems we will have to wait and see what develops — all Apple will say is that it ” buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

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