In a deal exceeding $200 million, Apple confirmed on Monday its acquisition of Topsy, a firm that assesses customer sentiment by crunching Twitter’s immense tweet stream. With Gnip and DataSift, Topsy is one of the few firms with comprehensive access to Twitter data.
This is a curious move for Apple, not known for its presence in social media. Apple generally sticks to hardware, software and apps. An Apple spokesperson confirmed the deal in characteristically tight-lipped fashion: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” The same statement accompanied Apple’s acquisition in November of PrimeSense, a company that makes 3-D sensors.
Topsy’s motto is “instant social insight.” Its social search and analytics tools allow marketers to determine the exact counts for any Twitter term, to find the most influential Twitter voices on any topic, and to quantify exposure of advertising campaigns.
Speculation about Apple’s intentions for Topsy abounds. Topsy’s trend-revealing capabilities could help Apple target what people might want to watch on its projected TV service, or to make recommendations for apps, music and movies. Internet search engine operators have for some time been exploring ways to deliver more personalized search results, accessing social media to base recommendations on tweets from friends. Apple may be interested in incorporating Topsy analytics into its Safari web browser to do likewise, thereby advancing the game.
‘Topsy indexes the immense storehouse of unstructured content produced by Twitter, technology that might boost Apple’s Siri voice search power’, commented competitor DataSift executive Rob Bailey to the New York Times. The business intelligence, naturally, will allow for better social media placement of Apple’s products, as well, such as Apple’s streaming music service iTunes Radio.
When Apple launched its iPhone 4S, lukewarm critical response sent stocks down. However, as part of a project Topsy completed for a hedge fund in October 2012, the analytics showed that Twitter users of the iPhone were enthusiastic. The phone sold, and the stock price went up.
Apple has now acquired social media analytics technology that may serve it in multiple ways in the topsy-turvy tech market.