Apple buys social analytics startup Topsy for $200M

Topsy website banner

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple has now acquired another company, the social-media analytics startup Topsy Labs Inc. for more than $200 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

Billed as the world’s only index of the public social web, Topsy builds software that ties into Twitter to enable social search and crazy detailed analytics.

Apple has confirmed the deal, but its spokesperson refused to detail what the company’s plans with Topsy might be. Since we doubt Apple is building its own search engine, Topsy intelligence could be plugged into Siri as yet another data provider for greater social context and improved search.

As you know, Apple with iOS 7 added the ability to check out a contact’s Twitter feed via Siri. Another possibilities: Apple’s iTunes Radio service and the struggling iAd platform…

WSJ’s technology reporters Daisuke Wakabayashi and Doug MacMillan have the scoop:

Topsy specializes in data from Twitter, TWTR -1.90% offering tools to analyze tweets and other information to help track consumer sentiment. Its tools can decipher how often a specific term is tweeted, find an influential person on a specific subject, or measure the exposure of an event or campaign.

The company is one of a handful of Twitter’s partners who have access to the so-called “firehose”—the full stream of all tweets posted to the service. Topsy competes with DataSift Inc. and Gnip Inc. to analyze and resell this data to customers.

An Apple spokeswoman has confirmed the deal with the company’s standard boilerplate on buying smaller technology companies from time to time. “We generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” she said without elaborating further.

In addition to potential Siri uses, Apple could tap Topsy to boost iTunes Radio by providing the ability “to alert listeners to songs that are trending or artists being discussed on Twitter,” the article speculates.

And if Siri and/or iTunes Radio are in the cards, what’s stopping Apple from using Topsy technology to improve the accuracy of its iAd advertising platform, which happens to power ads in the free version of iTunes Radio?

As the article notes, “Topsy also could provide marketers with real-time data to sell targeted advertising on iTunes Radio”.

And while we’re speculating, Topsy could be a nice fit to boost Apple’s many content stores by delivering content recommendations on the iTunes Store, App Store, Mac App Store and the iBooks Store based on Twitter trends.

It’s interesting that Topsy’s Pro Analytics service is in use at some of the world’s leading global marketing, news, publishing, TV/movie/entertainment and financial organizations.

Topsy analytics

For what it’s worth, Topsy’s products include the Social Search engine which taps into Twitter to figure out what you did on the popular micro-blogging platform last summer, as well as detailed Analytics and API services.

From Topsy’s website:

With the only full-scale index of the public social web, instantly analyze any topic, term or hashtag across years of conversations on millions of web sites.

Identify key thoughts, opinions and content, over time or in realtime. Dynamically reveal related ideas and unexpected insights.

Use precise metrics to model current trends against competitors or past events. Design and optimize actions, or predict future outcomes.

The Topsy API is especially interesting – it allows developers to easily implement social features into their software using social content, metrics and insights from Topsy.

The company’s website positions Topsy as “the only Twitter partner certified as both a data reseller and an analytics provider”. Greg Sterling of SearchEngineLand has a nice profile on Topsy: the firm sits on an astounding 540 billion tweets in its index.

Matter of fact, Topsy itself said back in August 2012 that its index at the time provided instant access to hundreds of billions of public tweets, in real-time and going back several years.

The system taps fluent data-mining and analytical path-finding capabilities to provide real-time search across Topsy’s massive social media index, “not limited by the tunnel- vision of static filtering or delayed batch-oriented processing”.

Some of the key features include:

• Instant Results – realtime and multi-year historical results for any term or topic in seconds
• Discovery – surface what’s new, learn what’s related and find what’s driving a conversation
• Dynamic Analysis – uncover new insights by drilling immediately into unexpected results
• Importance Identification – highlight important results by relevance, down-scoring spam/noise
• Prediction – correlate social media trends to real-world events
• Exact Metrics – precisely measure mention-counts, trending, sentiment, links and exposure
• Activity Analysis – exact mention counts and share of voice for any term in realtime or over time
• Link Analysis – URLs resolved to alias-independent form, classified as link/image/video, indexed
• Link Trending – trending URLs identified within topics, media types and web-sites or domains
• Topsy Sentiment Score – sentiment quantified, and positive and negative Tweet/posts counted
• Exposure Analysis – the gross exposure of Tweets, people, terms or hashtags
• Event Timeline Analysis – communication originators and amplifiers identified for any trend
• Influence Analysis – find influential people for any topic and drill into their communication

The algorithms apparently account for such nuances as geographic location, social sentiment, language and influence identification.

Interestingly, the How We Do It link cited in the media release is dead now.

Topsy’s patent applications can be found here and include a few related to social networks, such as ‘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’.

If Apple wanted to keep the ingredients of the secret Topsy sauce secret, why keep the Topsy website alive at all?

One thing is certain: Tim Cook & Co. now have massive amounts of Twitter data. The Apple CEO earlier stated his company made a total of fifteen acquisitions in fiscal 2013.

Just last week, Apple acquired the Tel Aviv, Israel-based Kinect inventor PrimeSense for the reported $350 million. According to pundits, Tim Cook & Co. could use PrimeSense technology to boost Apple’s own Maps offering.

Other possibilities include a rumored gestures-driven full-on television set or an Apple TV hardware refresh with gestural input.

What do you make of this Topsy deal?