From Diana J. Choyce
Mar 27 - Apr 02, 2000
Interactive web surfing innovation may have hit a new high. We are all used to filling out forms, playing games, and using personalized news. And that has made the internet a friendlier and more personal experience. But would we be able to get used to scratch and sniff websites? DigiScents Inc. is gambling that we will. And very soon web site developers will be clamoring for the use of our noses with this new technology. Digiscents, a privately held corporation, is located in Oakland, California. It was founded in February 1999 by Dexster Smith and Joel Lloyd Bellenson. Smith and Bellenson also founded Pangea Systems Inc, a leading biotechnology company.
The Oakland-based start-up announced this past October that it has developed an interactive technology designed to add scents to multimedia CD-ROMs and Web sites. This new technology will allow content developers the ability to add customized scents to enhance the user experience, motivate sales, and more. For instance, a shopper visiting a scent-enhanced cosmetics Web site could sample the newest perfumes; a travel Web site could add the scent of the ocean to promote a Caribbean vacationpackage; a game player could solve an interactive murder mystery using scented clues. DigiScents' technology includes both software and hardware components. In general, though, DigiScents has developed a digital index of scents that the company will license to developers to integrate into games, Web sites, ads, movies, and music. The scents will be emitted from a computer peripheral device called the iSmell. The release of the scents is determined by ScentStream, software that drives the operation of the iSmell in coordination with a Web site or other media. "The sense of smell is closely tied to memory and emotion, making scent a powerful way to reinforce ideas," says Joel Bellenson, chief executive officer of DigiScents. "If a picture is worth a thousand words, a scent is worth a thousand pictures."
The whole idea has been met with more than a bit of skepticism, but the company insists they are for real. "My response to that was "This is funny, but it's definitely not a joke,'" laughs Dexster Smith, who co-founded Digiscents last January with his longtime partner Joel Lloyd Bellenson. "This is something that Joel and I are used to. The last company we started, Pangea Systems, did genetic analysis and databases for drug discovery, and people called that "Star Trek'" medicine. We do things that stretch the public imagination." Digiscents is already talking to developers, primarily in the video game industry, about creating iSmell-enhanced products. Also in October Digiscents signed a distribution agreement with RealNetworks. They are the recognized leader in streaming media delivery for the Internet, and will distribute DigiScents' ScentStream software with its RealPlayer G2, using the auto-update feature, bringing the world of scent to the more than 80 million registered users. "DigiScents is adding a new dimension to the Internet,'' said Pete Zaballos, director Systems Marketing, RealNetworks, Inc. "This is yet another example of our commitment to providing RealPlayer users with the most innovative, compelling streaming media experience.'' Other consumers, Smith of Digiscents says, have shown excitement about designing their own scents -- though, he adds, "one of the things that the response has told me is that we are going to have a very receptive audience in the areas of adolescent humor and extreme entertainment."
A visit to the company website at www.digiscents.com, provided more information on this interesting new internet twist. They describe iSmell as "a personal scent synthesizer, a computer peripheral device. The iSmell attaches to the serial or USB port of your personal computer and plugs into a standard electrical outlet. The iSmell emits naturally based vapors into the user's personal space. The device is triggered either by user activation (like a mouse click) or a timed response (as is the case with a DVD ScentTrack "). And it, of course, has an on/off switch in case one's nose gets overwhelmed. They currently can produce 2 to the 128th power smells with the iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer. Much like Pantone has created a digital palette for mixing and printing colors, DigiScents is creating a scent palette for designing scents and incorporating them into media presentations. The software will instruct the iSmell the device to emit one or a combination of over 100 basic scents. They are also in the process of producing a website called Snortal. "The Snortal , the Internet's first a scent-enabled Web portal, is a web site for all
Things that smell. Visiting the Snortal, you will be able to send "ScentMail ", design and register your own ScentObjects, and create and share ScentTracks for your favorite movies and music. Look out for the DigiScents Snortal at www.snortal.com in the summer of 2000".
In February of this year Digiscents raised US$10 million in cash financing from Hong Kong-listed Pacific Century CyberWorks Limited. PCCW is the technology flagship of the Pacific Century Group. PCCW's investment represents a 12.5 percent stake in DigiScents, the most substantial financial investment in Digital Scent Technology to date. "This deal opens the exciting opportunity to introduce DigiScents Digital Scent Technology to the Asia-Pacific market via PCCW's enormous Internet network," states Joel Bellenson, CEO of DigiScents. Bellenson adds: "Just as sound has become an integral part of the online entertainment experience and soundtracks have become a necessity in movies, we believe that over time, digital scent will also become ubiquitous in most forms of media. The same way you can click on and hear a song over the Internet, now you can click on an image and smell it with a computer speaker-sized device. The applications in advertising and education are huge."
Even while writing this article I am still wondering if it is for real. But given the media attention and the amount of financing involved, it appears to be true. I'm not sure one needs to "sniff" their way across the web. But any new frontier has it share of strange ideas that made a lot of money. You never know, this may be one to invest a little pocket money in, just in case.