Apple (AAPL) on Monday confirmed reports it has bought Topsy Labs, a San Francisco-based social media analytics researcher specializing in capturing and massaging unstructured Twitter (TWTR) data, for around $200 million, according to a figure posted by The Wall Street Journal.

Topsy supplies tools and expertise to analyze some 500 million Twitter tweets daily, looking to eye trends mined from consumer attitudes. Topsy, which competes against DataSift and Gnip, is among a few companies with access to the full measure of the 425 billion tweets posted on Twitter in the past seven years, referred to as the data “firehose.”

According to the WSJ article, an Apple spokeswoman confirmed the deal but declined to provide any details, offering a canned response: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." The Journal also didn’t get anything from Topsy, which may have been hushed up as part of the transaction.

The hard part about this deal is figuring out what Apple wants with Topsy. The easiest guess is that Apple is trying to learn from its failed Ping music social network experiment. Simply put, it may be that Apple is enamored with Topsy’s search and index expertise for unstructured data.

As TechCrunch mused, with Apple already a Twitter partner with login and posting features housed on its iOS and OS X operating systems, it’s not the firehose it wants, so it’s possible the vendor figures Topsy engineers will help it learn more from Twitter data than it could on its own.

Or, Apple may want to make better sense of social media to help users find their preferences in apps, music, movies or other content. For example, linking Topsy with iTunes Radio could enable it to ping listeners on trending songs or artists. And, better search technology could make Siri more powerful.