2005: Makers, Maps and M&As

26 Nov 2021

A robot made using an Arduino board. Image: © AlesiaKan/Stock.adobe.com

A digital-savvy generation gets tinkering with tech as a string of acquisitions starts to build tech behemoths and Google sets out to make the world more searchable.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021.

On 14 January 2005, a 16-year-old student from Castletroy College, Co Limerick was named Young Scientist of the Year. He had impressed the competition judges with his project to develop a new programming language based on one of the world’s first, Lisp, which was originally specified in the ’50s. At a special ceremony with President Mary McAleese, he was bequeathed a cheque for €3,000 and a trophy from Waterford Crystal.

His name was Patrick Collison.

The soon-to-be-millionaire and subsequent billionaire was hitting the ground running amid a surge of youthful interest in computer programming and hacking.

2005 also saw students in Italy start the Arduino project, naming it after a bar in which they used to meet.

The credit card-sized Arduino board was created as a low-cost and accessible route to creating devices, kick-starting a major maker movement among budding programmers. Combining the basic microcontroller with signal connectors made Arduinos a perfect building block for home-made robots, motion detectors, smart thermostats and much more.

And Europe’s tinkerers received good news in July when the European Parliament rejected a directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. It was seen a blow to Big Tech, but a boon for makers and the open source movement.

Google takes on the world

Google got busy with making in 2005, too. It launched Google Video, which predated YouTube by mere weeks. There was also Google Talk, its first-ever instant messaging platform (coupled with a phone service), and Google Books, the continuation of Google Print, a project to digitise 10m books. It also launched a mini version of its Google Search Appliance, the physical embodiment of its indexing technology.

But of all these new Google ventures, there is perhaps none more significant than its decision to build a searchable map of the world.

According to Dr Jessica McCarthy, present-day engineering site lead at Google Ireland, this was all part of Google’s mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

“Today, a lot of us wonder how we ever managed to travel and find new places without using Google Maps,” she said. “Since launching in February 2005, it’s not an exaggeration to say Maps has fundamentally changed the way that most of us travel.”

To date, Google has mapped more than 220 countries and territories.

Major M&As

Before he founded Slack, Stewart Butterfield was the co-founder of photo-sharing platform Flickr. In March 2005, at just over a year old, Flickr was bought by Yahoo in a deal reported to be worth up to $25m. This was one of a string of acquisitions by Yahoo in 2005, closing out the year with the purchase of social bookmarking service Delicious.

At this time, Yahoo was pursuing a strategy in social search – a sort of fusion of the practicality of search engines and the popularity of social media. Speaking of the latter, this was the year media tycoon Rupert Murdoch spent more than half-a-billion dollars to acquire MySpace.

This was far surpassed by Lenovo’s $1.25bn acquisition of IBM’s PC business, bringing the ThinkPad line of computers and a seasoned sales team under the umbrella of the Chinese company, one of the largest PC manufacturer in the world. (It would later go on to acquire IBM’s server line of computers as well.)

Next on the scale is eBay’s acquisition of Skype, then a loss-making entity. This didn’t seem to impact the price as eBay agreed to shell out $4.1bn for the VoIP platform. Or was it $2.6bn? That’s the amount that was paid up front in 2005, in an agreement that would see another $1.5bn paid out in 2008 or later, pending performance goals. It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Instead, eBay took a $1.4bn write-down of Skype in 2007 and divested the business in 2009.

And then came the big one when O2 accepted Telefónica’s £17.7bn bid, giving the Spanish telco a foothold in Germany and the UK, two of Europe’s largest mobile markets. However, the Irish operation really proved its value in the deal with Ireland becoming a highly profitable market for mobile operators in the coming years.

A Lero in the making

In its first years of operation, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) drove the establishment of centres for science, engineering and technology to focus research on core themes aligned with industry. By 2005, we’d already seen the founding of CRANN and CTVR in Trinity College Dublin, REMEDI and DERI in NUI Galway, APC Microbiome in University College Cork, and the National Centre for Human Proteomics in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

In November, they were to be joined by the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, primarily hosted at University of Limerick. SFI stumped up €11.7m for the establishment of the national research centre and Prof Kevin Ryan, one of the key instigators of the centre, was installed as its leader.

A distributed model included the work of top research scientists at Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Dublin City University, and early industry partners included Analog Devices, IBM, Intel and Ireland’s own Iona Technologies.

The director of an eminent Californian research centre had impressed upon Ryan the importance of branding and so the centre later took on the name of Lero, the result of consultation with a Dublin branding agency.

Is there a doctor in the house?

In less illustrious news for the Irish science ecosystem, Barry McSweeney was forced to resign his position as chief scientific adviser to the Irish Government when the validity of his credentials was challenged.

Undeniably an experienced scientific administrator, McSweeney had earned a BSc from University College Cork and a master’s from Trinity, and had previously served as head of the EU’s scientific advisory.

However, a report in the Irish Independent in October revealed that McSweeney had secured his PhD from a dubious, unaccredited institution after just 12 months of study. Based in the US, Pacific Western University had already been subject to a number of investigations and was even banned in some US states for its ‘fee-for-degree’ operations.

It wasn’t the end of McSweeney’s career in Government, however. He ended the year as a research coordinator in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. His alma mater, however, was ordered to cease operations the following year.

In other news

7 January: Apple’s iTunes store finally goes live in Ireland after brokering an agreement with the Irish Music Rights Organisation.

11 January: Apple announces the iPod Nano, its smallest iPod yet.

12 January: Samsung unveils a mobile handset controlled by movement using an in-built accelerometer.

13 January: In a move discussed since 2003, Amazon chooses Dublin as the location for its European Systems and Network Operations Centre.

14 January: Media Lab Europe, a visionary €50m project to replicate an MIT digital media research centre in Dublin’s Liberties, goes into voluntary liquidation with the loss of 35 jobs.

27 January: Irish companies Am-Beo, Valista and Xsil appear on the Tornado100 list of Europe’s top start-ups.

16 February: The Kyoto Protocol to control greenhouse gas emissions comes into effect.

16 February: After more than a year of chasing, IDA secures commitment from Yahoo for a “complex operation” in Dublin, creating 400 jobs.

10 March: Marking its 20th anniversary in Ireland, Microsoft establishes its European Product Development Centre at its Sandyford HQ, creating 100 jobs.

26 March: The first episode of the Doctor Who reboot airs on BBC One.

12 April: Esat BT becomes BT Ireland, severing ties with the telecoms firm it purchased from Denis O’Brien in 2000.

15 April: Irishman Kevin Cooney is appointed CIO of semiconductor manufacturer Xilinx.

23 April:Me at the zoo’ is the first video ever uploaded to YouTube.

27 April: The Government reveals plans to fill the gap left by Media Lab Europe with the National Digital Research Centre.

27 April: The CEO of Nabi Biopharmaceuticals, the first US biotech company to establish an operation in Ireland, says the biotech sector will eclipse IT.

19 May: The Government announces a 12-member science advisory council chaired by software industry consultant Mary Cryan.

8 June: Denis O’Brien’s Digicel Group becomes the first company to be awarded a licence to operate a GSM network in Haiti following a tender process.

28 June: EuroConex claims to process the very first non-test chip and PIN transaction in Ireland at a bookshop in Naas.

20 July: Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin, TD, reveals plans for a green card-style process to attract highly skilled overseas workers as he announces new R&D investments from Xilinx, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Pfizer, Citigroup and Genzyme.

25 July: The battle to acquire Ireland’s third-ranked mobile operator ends with Eircom making a successful €420m bid for Meteor.

1 September: A landmark spam case concludes with the first successful prosecution for sending unsolicited phone or email messages in Ireland.

20 September: The Connect Cork initiative kicks off, aiming to turn Cork into an e-city.

7 October: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the 11th richest man in the world, takes a tour of Microsoft Ireland before delivering a lecture at Trinity College Dublin and speaking to SiliconRepublic.com about the talent gap.

8 October: Stanley, an autonomous Volkswagen Touareg R5, completes a 175-mile race with no human intervention, winning the DARPA Grand Challenge and a $2m prize.

24 November: The president of the American Chamber of Commerce is forced to defend Ireland’s corporate tax rate following reports in the US calling for the closure of loopholes for US firms with overseas operations.

28 November: A representative body for Irish podcasters is formed.

28 November: The UN Climate Change conference (COP11) begins in Montreal. It would lead to the Montreal Action Plan to extend the Kyoto Protocol and negotiate deeper emissions cuts. Canada’s environment minister described it as a “map for the future”.

21 December: A podcast established by a group of Irish boy scouts rates 68 in the top 100 podcasts on iTunes.

31 December: A leap second is added to the end of the year for the first time since 1998.

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