Apple dips into social analytics with Topsy acquisition (+video)

The world's most valuable company, Apple, is heading into the social media game by purchasing social analytics firm Topsy for a reported $200 million. But Apple's end game is still a mystery.

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    Apple could use analytics from the recently acquired Topsy to tailor ads on Apple products, like iTunes radio, pictured here.
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Apple has acquired a company with access to “the hose” – the nickname for Twitter’s stream of 500 million tweets per day.

Apple bought data analytics firms Topsy for a reported $200 million, according to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Journal reports that the firm is one of only four companies with full access to the ever-updating stream of events, but what Apple plans to do with this new influx of media data is yet to be seen.

Topsy takes the barrage of tweets, ranging from @justinbieber’s selfies to @barackobama’s live tweets of state events, and uses tools to sculpt a clearer picture of trends and buzzwords. The service can decipher which users are influencers, which terms are trending, and the exposure of an event or marketing campaign. The company also recently got access to further geographical information, allowing the company to identify the country origin of 95 percent of tweets and to name the city of nearly one-quarter of all tweets, according to the Wall Street Journal report.

Recommended: Are you savvy about social networks? Take our quiz to find out.

The company also recently announced it had indexed every tweet since Twitter began in 2006 – more than 425 billion in all.

Topsy, along with Gnip, Data Sift, and NTT Data, are Twitter’s only certified data resellers, and count for the bulk of Twitter’s data revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Digits Blog, the social media company raked in $47.5 million last year from data mining alone.

Apple’s motivations for buying Topsy are still fuzzy, however. The company did confirm the purchase, though responded to requests for comment with its expected boilerplate answer: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” Some suggest that the data could be helpful to Apple’s media partners, iOS app developers, or targeted ads on products such as iTunes Radio. It could also be used simply to monitor consumer reaction to Apple’s products and announcements.

This move also could bolster the success of iAds, Apple’s mobile advertising platform that allows third-party developers to put ads in applications.

Apple has been on an acquiring spree lately, snatching up start-ups dealing in 3-D technology, public transportation directions, and mass transit alerts.

Perhaps a Frankenstein technology creation is in the works (a 3-D public transit directions app that searches Twitter for real time traffic trends, anyone?), but likely it will mean Apple will integrate its acquisitions into future products. Bloomberg points out that after Apple bought AuthenTec, a fingerprint-security firm, last year, fingerprint technology was brought to the iPhone 5S. 

Regardless of who owns the analytics, it's clear which company owns the social media buzz: check out a Topsy graph comparing tweets about Twitter vs. Topsy vs. Apple here

Recommended: Are you savvy about social networks? Take our quiz to find out.
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