Apple could automatically give users of its iTunes Radio service real-time information about songs or artists trending on Twitter, or could offer a wide variety of other real-time analysis, thanks to its reported purchase today of social-media analytics firm Topsy Labs.
According to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Apple paid more than $200 million for San Francisco-based , which develops tools that help companies mine Twitter for sentiment analysis.
Topsy frequently issues data about how information has spread across Twitter during big events such as Hurricane Sandy or the Super Bowl. Many companies use that information to better understand how to reach current or prospective customers. Topsy's tools can reveal how often a specific term is tweeted and who is doing the tweeting.
Neither Apple nor Topsy immediately responded to a request for comment. However, Apple confirmed the acquisition to the Journal, though it didn't offer any rationale for the deal. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time," the company told the Journal, "and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."
Although Topsy is a Twitter partner with access to the social network's "firehose," the full stream of tweets from all of the more than 220 million Twitter users, it's not clear exactly what Apple might do with the analytics firm. The Journal speculated that the tech giant might well be interested in bringing more real-time data about songs or artists trending on Twitter.
But the deal may be more about helping Apple understand what its millions of customers are saying about it, said Brian Blau, an analyst at Gartner. Though Blau had no direct information about the acquisition, he said that Apple may view a service like Topsy as a way to "figure out how to inject themselves into the social conversation."
For some time, said Blau, Apple has been a "somewhat anti-social" company in that they haven't put too much emphasis on interacting with customers directly. But, Blau said, "I think a company like Apple certainly can't ignore what's being said in social these days....You need to know who your customers are, and what they're doing."
Indeed, Blau added that it makes sense for Apple to buy Topsy. "There's been a couple times where they've been caught off guard," he said. "Maybe having a tool like this would help them better prepare" next time.