Great moments in dotcom history: DigiScents

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time story from PC World brought back a memory of dotcom craziness at its peak. #24 on the list was DigiScents iSmell, which was according to PC World “a shark-fin-shaped gizmo that plugged into your PC’s USB port and wafted appropriate scents as you surfed smell-enabled Web sites–say, perfume as you were browsing Chanel.com, or cheese doodles at Frito-Lay.com.” I visited DigiScents back in the day and remember the visit clearly.

Back in the summer and fall of 2000, I was leading an effort to commercialize the CMS we had built at Salon.com. We called the spin-off Creation Engines, and word got around to the media and a story showed up on the Industry Standard. (Thanks to the dedication and efforts of David Wheeler, the project eventually was open-sourced as Bricolage). As CMS’s went, I think it was pretty good, but there were lots of reasons it didn’t end up working out (long story, but you can read the 8-K we filed with the SEC).

One of our early targets was DigiScents — we weren’t particularly discriminate in our sales targets by that point. We visited their offices in a grubby section of Oakland (getting real estate in SF then was impossible — remember?) and we did our usual presentation, then a person on their end of the table uttered a line with a completely straight face that pretty much encapsulated the simultaneous seriousness and insanity of the dotcom era for me:

“We’re building a portal of digital smells — a snortal.”

I almost spit up my free dotcom soda.

Just now, I had to look in the Internet Archive to make sure I didn’t dream up the “snortal” concept. Lo and behold, on their “contact us” page, you see this line:

If you would like to advertise on Snortal (coming soon), inquire at ads@digiscents.com.

Also, run a search for “snortal” and there’s still a trail. You just can’t make this stuff up!

4 thoughts on “Great moments in dotcom history: DigiScents

  1. I visited the DigiScents office and had a brieing with them c.2000. I wanted to pair them up with some of my clients who could benefit from the availability of scents on a web site. They had no protoype, nothing to show, and, so I thought, vaporware. But it was an interesting idea with perhaps a near-impossible way of developing it.

    Still, the idea is around, and may find a way around the failed promise of AI.

  2. Yea, I worked on their first web site from Marc Canter’s Broadband Mechanics comapny. We launched the site days after they were on the cover of Wired Magazine.

    My fondest memory of them was when we made a bunch of changes to the site and one of their producers asked us to fax her the changes that we made. When Marc heard about that, he said “I think we’re going to have to fire them.” The were _our_ client though! Hehehe!

  3. I love the memory of my visit to Digiscents, the tour and the gifties…..still use my colorful digiscent mouse pad and love my refrigerator stick ons. Hope it comes back some day.
    Paula Steffen

  4. Had an internship at a buzzy startup in Cambridge, MA in the summer of 2001, 3PLex.com. Vividly remember reading about the company and even getting in touch with the founders. I really believed it was going to happen….

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