The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Apple has purchased Topsy, the leading Twitter search engine and analytics tool, for a rumored $200 million or more. While Apple has not released a definitive statement on what they plan to do with the service, the social web has been abuzz with what this partnership could mean for Apple’s iOS operating system and for Twitter users worldwide.
The San Francisco-based company launched in 2007, and is widely acknowledged as one of the best Twitter search engines in existence, thanks in large part to its incredible index; the service can access every single tweet in existence from 2006 to the present—approximately 540 billion tweets in total—making it an immensely helpful for social analytics. Throw a few keywords into the analytics search engine—“star wars” versus “star trek”, for example—and you can see how many tweets per day mention each key phrase, and who comes out on top (for this week it’s Star Wars, surprisingly). Users can also explore their entire Twitter backlog, examining which of their tweets has had the most influence on the social sphere as a whole and who they influence the most.
From roughly 2008 to 2010, Topsy was one of several “real-time” social search sites fighting for prominence; it competed with other companies like Collecta, Crowdeye, Tweetmeme, and Scoopler, to name just a few. However, the major search engines began including real-time results in their own algorithms, killing off most of these tools—except for Topsy, which remained strong as one of the few companies with full access to Twitter’s entire back index of tweets. The company won the race for good when the same search engines either shut down their social search functions or lost access to Twitter’s veritable “fire hose” of tweet data; Topsy retained what Google couldn’t keep. So it’s not surprising that Topsy was a hot acquisition property, but its purchase by Apple is an interesting twist.
There are tons of ways in which Apple could use Topsy’s services, but unlike the company’s other recent acquisitions it’s not immediately clear how it will be applied. Some analysts predict that Topsy’s information may be used to help improve app recommendations in Siri, the App store, and iTunes; if you think about it, Twitter is a far better way to discover connections between properties. Apple’s Genius tool can use a mathematical algorithm to recommend Bob’s Burgers if you’re a fan of Archer, but Twitter trends may show that people who talk about Archer are overwhelmingly more likely to also mention Breaking Bad—the crucial human element of choice and preference that may have slipped past Apple’s algorithm. Apple is also highly likely to use Topsy’s data to improve its digital voice assistant, Siri; they integrated Twitter information into Siri with the iOS 7 update, and Topsy would greatly improve the results.
While the details of what Apple plans to do with Topsy aren’t yet clear, it’s an intriguing turn of events; no one really expected that data to end up in the hands of the consumer electronics giant, and considering Apple’s recent competition with and separation from Google services it’s clear that the developers are seeking alternative methods to accurately search the web in all its forms. Whatever the outcome, it seems that little Topsy has, at last, found electric love.