By BRIAN X. CHEN and VINDU GOEL
Published: December 2, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is not known for being social — rather, it is known for being buttoned up about everything it does. But on Monday, the company confirmed that it had bought Topsy Labs, a research company that could help Apple better understand what people are talking about on social media networks like Twitter.
Topsy focuses on analyzing the half a billion messages sent over Twitter every day. The company has indexed every tweet ever sent and has made them searchable, much like Google does for the web. The company also helps clients analyze tweets for various business trends.
While Apple has built some of its software to work with Twitter’s service, it remained unclear why a hardware maker like Apple would be interested in Topsy. Apple was not giving any clues.
“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman. She did not disclose how much Apple paid for Topsy.
Apple has made a fortune making hardware, but it has botched some online services in the past, like Ping, Apple’s short-lived social network for finding music.
Ross Rubin, an independent analyst for Reticle Research, said Apple could use Topsy’s data analysis to better understand popular trends on social media and make smarter recommendations for things like finding apps, music and movies to buy, or perhaps finding content to watch with a future TV service.
Rob Bailey, chief executive of DataSift, one of Topsy’s competitors, said Topsy might have been appealing to Apple because of its expertise in searching and indexing the vast amounts of unstructured content that make up Twitter. He added that Apple could use the search technology to help power its Siri voice search capabilities.
A Topsy spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
Perhaps one clue to Apple’s interest lies in an experiment Topsy did involving one of Apple’s flagship products, the iPhone 4S. In a September interview, Topsy executives described a project for a hedge fund in which they tracked sentiments on Twitter about the October 2012 introduction of the Apple phone.
The phone underwhelmed professional critics, sending Apple’s stock down. But Topsy found that Twitter users were more positive, suggesting that the phone would sell well. Sure enough, Apple reported strong sales figures later, sending the stock up.
A version of this article appears in print on December 3, 2013, on page B2 of the New York edition with the headline: Apple Enters Social Media By Adding an Analytics Firm.