In the past year, social data has continued to wend its way into organizations of all types, from large enterprise to small business to media and entertainment and the public sector. We’ve seen use cases far past marketing into product and service quality, entertainment programming, customer service, fraud detection and a host of other examples. Yet the idea of social data as an asset that requires real enterprise rigor (quality control, curation and integration with other data sources) is still nascent.

This week, Apple purchased Topsy, one of Twitter’s certified partners and a company that both resells and analyzes Twitter data. The acquisition had many scratching their heads initially, but a quick review of Apple’s acquisitions this year includes, according to AppleInsider, at least two companies with complementary technologies: AlgoTrim, a Swedish data compression company, and, a second-screen startup.

The combination of data compression, social data analysis and predictive capability suggest intriguing potential applications in the area of personalized recommendation, whether in iTunes or radio, or TV, or some other medium not yet revealed. While Apple’s acquisition arguably takes Topsy out of the social data reseller business, the $42 million in Series-C funding raised by DataSift today demonstrates that the business of social data is gaining serious momentum. But this market, as it’s evolving, is not just a game of “Capture the Firehose”; it’s about taking this enormously complex, rich and challenging data set and turning it into insight that can be used to suggest trends that real people in real organizations can act on.

It’s not about the firehose; it’s not even about the water. It’s about the fires the water can put out, and the things it can cause to grow. This small collection of companies, which now effectively includes DataSift, Gnip and NTT Data in Japan, is forming the embryo of a market that will, for the first time, enable organizations to incorporate the customer’s voice–the raw, the spontaneous, the immediate–as a legitimate input into organizational decision-making. This is not a simple proposition: it requires tremendous expertise in big data processing and an ecosystem to promote growth and experimentation and leadership, among many other things. And, as Gnip has clearly understood, it requires educating the market as to the challenges and opportunities of social data. All of these companies, in their different ways, have played a critical role in getting us to the starting line for social data.

Now that 2013 is coming to a close, and 2014 is about to be upon us, I predict the following:

  • More demand among organizations for “enterprise ready” social data streams
  • Experimentation with new use cases for social data
  • Collaboration among IT and marketing as social data becomes a more valued enterprise asset.
  • Less emphasis on the “social” aspect of social data; after all, it really is the most authentic, vivid and vast collection of the voice of the customer.
  • Acceptance of social data as a valued enterprise asset
  • A greater emphasis on social data ethics, compliance and best practices.

Congrats to Topsy and DataSift on their news this week. More to come.