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