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Topsy Buy Gives Apple Mountains of Twitter Data

Topsy Buy Gives Apple Mountains of Twitter Data

Apple's acquisition of Topsy may be an indication that it cares what consumers think after all. Not about product development -- Steve Jobs famously maintained that consumers needed to be shown what they wanted -- but perhaps in other areas. Having a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment and preferences could be useful in predicting future trends, for example.

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 3, 2013 11:49 AM PT

Apple has acquired Topsy in order to gain more access to real-time consumer information, according to press reports. Topsy provides Twitter data for business clients, helping them to gauge consumer sentiment, find influential social media voices, and measure overall exposure on any topic that's been mentioned in a tweet.

Earlier this year, Topsy debuted a search engine designed to help users parse the more than 425 billion tweets that have appeared on Twitter since its 2006 launch. Via Topsy, anyone can search tweets from past events like the Super Bowl or a major election, for instance, and then sort the results by date, time, language, or photo or video content.

Apple reportedly spent more than US$200 million on the deal.

Neither Apple nor Topsy responded to our request to comment for this story.

Bolstering Apple's Offerings

Topsy's functionality could enhance some of Apple's existing offerings, suggested Anindya Ghose, associate professor at the NYU Stern School of Business.

"Topsy has great search and indexing capabilities on unstructured content such as the textual data on Twitter via Topsy's search engine," he told MacNewsWorld. "Apple may want to use that to improve its own voice search capabilities via Siri."

In addition, Apple could be looking to bolster its streaming content offerings, said Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media. Netflix has seen success in part because of its ability to recommend shows and movies that viewers would like based on their previous habits. Apple could be aiming to strengthen its ability to make app suggestions.

"Apple's motives in buying Topsy seem to fall into two general categories," Tobin told MacNewsWorld.

Apple could want to "generate better results for their App Store and iTunes by integrating Twitter data," he suggested, or Apple could want to utilize "the engineering chops of the Topsy staff to make their own algorithms better, independent of Twitter data. Of course, it could also be both."

Shelling Out for Data

Apple is not likely to draw on Topsy's talent and technology to gauge consumer sentiment about products, said Tobin.

"Steve Jobs was famous for his belief that the public doesn't know what they want until they see it," he pointed out. "To do a 180 on that concept at this point would certainly be surprising."

Product development aside, the availability of so much data has its uses, said Internet marketing expert Brian Carter.

"Apple wants to keep its finger on the pulse of the marketplace or of music listeners," he told MacNewsWorld. "Perhaps they saw something innovative in [Topsy's] data analysis techniques -- and since all major companies now are comprised of data, this could represent a competitive advantage. Apple may be looking for ways to shore up their competitive advantage by purchasing the technological equivalent of a crystal ball."

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