For some time now, Apple has been a stand-out as a company that has seemingly shied away from social media, while at the same time being very successful.

All that may change with the news that Apple has bought social media analytics company Topsy for a reported $200m+.

Apple is flush with cash, and they could have bought almost any social media analytics company – so why Topsy?

It could be because of two things:

1) The Twitter firehose – Topsy is one of just 3 “data resellers” authorised by Twitter to sell access to the firehose, the other two being Datasift and Gnip.

2) Tweet archive – Topsy has all the tweets back to the first one sent on March 21st, 2006 by Jack Dorsey

I know a little about the value of both the Twitter firehose and the archive, having been the CEO of Kred until recently, which was developed by PeopleBrowsr.

Some eagle eyed readers will remember that PeopleBrowsr was in dispute with Twitter over access to the firehose, and later settled.

The nature of the Twitter/PeopleBrowsr dispute proved how valuable the firehose can be to both sides.  The additional benefit of having firehose access is you get to collect each and every tweet, and can build up a sizeable archive.

At PeopleBrowsr, tweets since November 2008 numbered in the 250 Billion range

So what will Apple do with Topsy?

I’d imagine they see more value in the technology and the team than just the pretty charts they can develop.

My initial view is that Apple is keen to dip their toe in the social analytics pond, and see what they can make of social “big data”.

Having access to the full historic set as well as all of the ongoing tweets via the firehose will give Apple a clear advantage in the social analytics space. and it will be interesting to see if Topsy continues to provide their services as-is, or gets absorbed into Apple.

While I am sure that Gnip and Datasift will welcome the news that their market has been validated to the tune of 200M+, and we may start to see Microsoft and Google look more closely at the 2 major firehose recipients as acquisitions.

One thing is sure, big social data should be on everyone’s agenda for 2014.