Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may not be known as a “social” company -- the company launched a social networking platform for iTunes in 2010 called “Ping,” but it failed after two years -- but the Wall Street Journal reports the iPhone maker has purchased Topsy, the San Francisco-based social search and analytics company that’s been working with Twitter since its launch in 2006, for more than $200 million. Fortune’s Dan Primack says the Topsy deal was actually more than $225 million.
Topsy offers analytics tools for keyword analysis across several different metrics, including the exposure, geography, activity, and general sentiment of messages sent on Twitter, Google+ and other social networks. Topsy also serves as a form of search engine, as the company can scan content across social networks and rank results based on its own social influence algorithm. But as Topsy has access to the full “firehose” of all tweets ever posted on Twitter, it specializes in data from that platform. since
Apple confirmed the acquisition with this boilerplate statement: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
What Could Apple Do With Topsy?
1. Better stores. The Wall Street Journal guesses Apple could apply Topsy’s social analytics to iTunes Radio or the App Store, which would allow Apple to bolster its Genius offering and provide better search results and recommendations to customers based on Twitter trends, or trends occurring across other social networks.
2. Twitter prominence. Apple isn’t prominent on Twitter, although the company has accounts for its App Store and iTunes that can boast more than 8 million combined followers. Topsy could help Apple's current Twitter accounts be more active and relevant, but if Apple ever decided to launch a company Twitter account, it could use Topsy’s technology to better tap into greater social conversations.
3. Relevant ads. If Apple wanted to improve its iAd platform, social data could help advertisers display more-relevant ads to its viewers. The iAd platform is only 3 years old, and while it’s not very robust, more-relevant ads could certainly boost the reputation and revenue of Apple’s fledgling advertising service.
4. Siri and Search. Apple’s digital personal assistant may be out of beta, but it’s still imperfect. Siri isn’t a great listener, but Topsy can help improve the software’s search results, especially when it comes to presenting users with answers and tweets directly from Twitter. Since you can use Siri to “Search Twitter for SF Giants,” Topsy could help ensure the tweets Siri rounds up are from influential users rather than random ones. Similarly, social data could help improve searching across other Apple services, including Spotlight search and Apple Maps.
5. Technology. Apple sometimes purchases companies not for their services but for their patents or technologies. Topsy, in particular, has filed for more than a dozen patents related to social networks, including systems for prediction-based crawling of social networks and methods for customized filtering and analysis of content collected from social networks. Topsy also has patents for advertising based on influence, estimating influence and reputation, and mediating and pricing transactions based on that reputation or influence, so the acquisition of this company may have been a strategic move rather than an effort to actually improve social relevancy.
Last week, Apple completed its purchase of the Israeli 3D-sensing technology company PrimeSense, which will reportedly help Apple incorporate 3D camera and image technology in future iOS devices. Apple also went on an acquisition spree this summer, purchasing Toronto-based Locationary, New York City-based HopStop, and WiFiSLAM and Embark Inc., both of which are based in Silicon Valley.
What do you think of the Apple deal for Topsy? Do you think Apple could use this social analytics firm in more than these five ways? Sound off in the comments section below.