Apple just bought social media analytics company Topsy for over $200 million. Sources have confirmed the purchase to VentureBeat and added that the Topsy team officially started work at Apple today.
It’s not entirely clear why Apple bought a Twitter sentiment company.
Apple, as usual, is not very forthcoming about its acquisitions, providing its standard PR response: ”Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
Topsy’s social media search engine is still functioning as of this moment, allowing you to “search and analyze the social web.” And it’s a very useful search engine as well, allowing you to sort Twitter search results by authority and relevance. One thing that’s interesting is that Topsy claims to be able to search all tweets since 2006, which means, of course, that it has access to Twitter’s firehose of data.
But free trials to its pro product have been shut down, and links in its paid product sections simply redirect to the home page, while links explaining its API product simply result in a 404 Page Not Found error.
Clearly, Apple did not buy Topsy to run a social media analytics service for other companies.
The company runs a web spider — “Butterfly robot” — to trawl the social web and provide the fodder for its Twitter search engine. There’s no word on whether that will continue to run as well, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Wall Street Journal speculates that Topsy could power a trending-song sales feature on iTunes, or help Apple monetize its new streaming music iTunes Radio product, or even help Apple rescue iAd from oblivion.
The truth is, few people outside Cupertino know why Apple needs this company, its people, and its technology.