Twitter has agreed to acquire Gnip, the world’s largest provider of Twitter data.

Gnip is a data startup that collects, analyzes, and sells Twitter data to a host of companies. It’s worked with Twitter for four years.

It’s one of a handful of entities with access to the Twitter “firehose,” the full stream of real-time activity on the service. It also has access to the full historical archive of public tweets.

Gnip was the first company authorized to resell historical Twitter data. It’s delivered more than 2.3 trillion tweets to clients spanning 42 countries, according to Gnip.

“We want to make our data even more accessible, and the best way to do that is to work directly with our customers to get a better understanding of their needs. To that end, we have agreed to acquire Gnip, a leading provider of social data and a long-standing Twitter data partner,” wrote Twitter’s Jana Messerschmidt in a blog post.

Twitter says it will continue making Gnip’s data available to the startup’s growing customer base. But that may leave other other third-party analytics companies in the dust.

Twitter has a history of cutting out middlemen. When Twitter bought Tweetie, it signaled the end of Twitter clients. This is likely going to lead to the firehose shutdown, as Twitter opens up internal analytics tools to advertisers — meaning all those third-party Twitter analytics startups, like DataSift, may be toast.

This acquisition also contradicts statements Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made in late 2011.

“We have no intention to scale the data licensing business,” Costolo noted at the time. “It’s important to us that third parties have access to the data. We’re just going to focus on scaling the advertising business.”

Neither company disclosed financial terms of the deal, but Gnip has raised $6.6 million in funding.

“This acquisition signals clear recognition that investments in social data are healthier than ever,” wrote Gnip CEO Chris Moody.

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