Is Apple taking Topsy to finally go social?

Apple has reportedly acquired social media search and analytics firm Topsy for more than $200m. But what will they do with it?

Whilst Apple may have cracked the hardware/software market, the one thing they haven’t been able to quite put their magic touch to is social media. For example, the much-forgotten Ping music service which Steve Jobs described as being “sort of like Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes.” Unfortunately, it lasted just two years before being shuttered for good by Apple.

So what is Apple planning to do with a company so outside its own comfort zone?

Here are five reasons why Apple might have splashed some of their vast cash reserves on a relative upstart:

  1. The Twitter firehose could be worth its weight in gold.

    One of Topsy’s most obvious assets was its direct access to Twitter’s data. This alone could largely contribute to the justification of such an acquisition. This effectively means Apple can mine all of Twitter’s data in real-time, providing social insights that simply aren’t available elsewhere.
  2. Social Siri’s Sentiment Analysis.

    Apple’s intelligent assistant has steadily got smarter and smarter since its introduction in 2011. Whilst it can easily perform quick searches and tell what you’ve already scheduled, its awareness of the real world here and now has been largely absent. Siri with Topsy could provide a whole new level of consciousness. “Siri, what are people in my town hall meeting saying right now?”, “Siri, do people like the mayor?” etc.
  3. Ads relevant to what you’re doing, right now.

    Integrated your Twitter/Facebook with iOS? Maybe you have the name of the current song you’re listening to being mentioned on your Twitter/Facebook page? Apple could see what you’re mentioning e.g. You “love the latest Beyonce album”. Apple can take a quick look at your iTunes history, know what Beyonce albums you don’t have and serve you an ad featuring that album at an attractive price. That’s a simple example but your feeds can give sentiment about a vast range of products that will inform both Apple and it’s clients.
  4. Capturing the Zeitgeist.

    What does the world want right now? Maybe a new song has gone viral and everyone wants it asap or a particular artist has just hit the headlines for any number of reasons. Real-time data allows Apple to see that and, by the time you’ve heard about the latest must-have piece of content, it will be featured on the iTunes homepage.
  5. iOS alerts the world.

    Sophisticated algorithms will be able to assess what is happening around the world at any given point. Is there something you should know about? Apple can model events and track them in real-time providing alerts directly to your iPhone/iPad etc from emergency alerts to breaking news that’s relevant to you or your interests. E.g. severe weather conditions cause widespread disruptions such as blackouts/flooding 200 miles from where you live. Apple (using Topsy) can analyse tweets and their locations for mentions of the disruption and map the weather pattern wherever it moves to. Should that weather start moving in your direction, Apple can see that coming, knows your iPhone’s location and can send an alert to your device with evacuation info much quicker than traditional public alert notices. Weather is just one example but say you’re in middle east or a riot situation in London, the same can apply. Theoretically it could even provide advice on your optimal route to safety, complete with traffic data etc. In essence, Apple tracks, models, predicts and notifies. An efficient system with plenty of potential buy-in from state agencies which could provide some revenue and positive PR in the process.

These are just a few possibilities but undoubtedly there are so many more ways in which Apple could use this to their advantage. It’s doubtful that their reasoning will stay quiet for too long.

One thing that is for sure, Apple don’t go spending $200m of their own money without a sound plan behind it.

Maybe I’ll just ask Siri, he should know…

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