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Apple buys research firm founded by Indians

New York, Dec. 3 (PTI): Apple has acquired a social media analytics firm, started by two Indian-American entrepreneurs, for over $200 million.

The San Francisco-based Topsy Labs was co-founded by Vipul Ved Prakash and Rishab Aiyer Ghosh.

It tracks trending topics on microblogging site Twitter and other social media networks. Topsy has analysed all tweets since 2006 and recently announced a free search engine for tweets.

While neither company revealed any details of the deal, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple paid over $200 million for Topsy.

Among the features that made Topsy attractive to Apple is that it tracks what users are saying on Twitter as it happens. Topsy also tracks how often terms are being tweeted. While Apple confirmed the acquisition to WSJ, it did not say why it was interested in Topsy.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” said Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet.

She did not disclose financial details of the deal.

According to Topsy’s website, chief technology officer Prakash is a pioneer in the field of collaborative filtering. In 2001, Prakash co-founded Cloudmark to create an Internet scale version of his open-source spam filter, Vipul’s Razor. Cloudmark crossed one billion subscribers in 2009 and is the leading worldwide platform for messaging security.

Before Cloudmark, Prakash was an engineer at Napster and was named one of the Top 100 Young Innovators in the world by MIT Technology Review.

Ghosh, chief scientist at Topsy, started First Monday, the most widely read peer-reviewed journal of the Internet, in 1995.

For its part, Topsy calls itself “the only full-scale index of the public social web”, noting that it has analysed all tweets since 2006, and says it can “instantly analyse any topic, term or hashtag across years of conversations on millions of websites”.

That includes identifying “key influencers with the most social influence for your product, brand, competitor or any other topic”, as well as providing exact counts on any term on social media.

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.

Perhaps one clue to Apple’s interest lies in an experiment Topsy did involving one of Apple’s flagship products, the iPhone 4S.

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