Apple bought social analytics firm Topsy for more than $200 million, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
Topsy is one of the few companies that has access to every tweet generated since 2006 and has the proven ability to analyze them all, both historically and in (near) real time, as they come in. While some see Topsy’s services primarily in the social realm, it’s also important to recognize its big data and analytical capabilities.
Possible Reasons For The Acquisition
Many of us think of hardware and devices when we think of Apple, but it’s also worth noting that as devices become more and more commoditized, the company's bigger future may be as a platform provider. Here its main competitors, Google and Microsoft, are well ahead in the game; both companies have the basic requirements needed for entry into computing’s third era — namely social, mobile, big data and cloud — Apple falls short in at least two of them.
While Apple is famously tight-lipped about how it plans to leverage its acquisitions, it no doubt plans to take advantage of Topsy’s primary assets, namely access to the rich data Twitter’s firehose generates and the ability to analyze it to detect social media trends via Twitter mentions, history, images and links around a particular keyword, time frame or company.
That kind of information could theoretically be used in all kinds of ways. During the recent Soul Train Awards show, for example, singer Tamar Braxton was trending on Twitter. If Apple saw this coming, it could promote songs or albums before anyone else did. It could also learn about potential customers.
It’s also worth noting that social is something that Apple has tried to do in the past. The late Steve Jobs introduced Ping in 2010 describing it as "sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes," but adding "Ping is not Facebook" and "it is not Twitter," instead describing it as "something else ... all about music."
However nice Jobs’ idea might have been, it may be that sharing your musical “likes” with your friends on yet another social network wasn’t an attractive idea. Ping never caught on. Apple’s current CEO, Tim Cook, shut down Ping last year because no one was using it.
iTunes and Topsy could be what Jobs wanted Ping to become. In this version, the social element would come from Twitter, where people already hang out. But lessons learned from the Ping experience shouldn’t be forgotten. Some concluded one of the reasons Ping didn’t succeed is that people like to share their favorite tunes with their friends in person.
Topsy's API can be inserted into other apps to help pull in social data for added relevance or personalization.
Will Topsy Inform Advertising?
Either way, in our minds, using Topsy only in that way, might be both a mistake and a missed opportunity. Consider that social music providers like Spotify and Pandora still have less mass appeal than iTunes. Even if this wasn’t the case, Topsy has so much more to offer than helping customers discover music.
It could, for example, also be used to revitalize iAd, an Apple feature which many of us have never even heard of.
The bottom line here is that Topsy provides Apple with a whole host of opportunities. Knowing what people are talking about and their sentiments around those topics are like gold — so whether the acquisition helps Apple build a platform worthy of the future, helps it provide better recommendations for its customers or helps it advertise smarter, or all three — Apple now has new, big and significant possibilities, some of which we surely haven’t even thought of yet.
CMSWire reporter Anthony Myers also contributed to this story.
Title image by nopporn (Shutterstock).