E-mail used to stink, now it smells

Imagine sending your significant other an e-Valentine with not just the image but the smell of a dozen red roses. Or, how about treating your annoying cousin to both the vision and the odor of Patrick Ewing's socks after four quarters of posting up Tim Duncan.

Sounds like something out of a John Waters flick (anyone remember Odorama?). But scratch-n-sniff e-cards, Internet ads and video games will soon be reality with digital-scent technology from DigiScents Inc., a privately held company in Oakland, California.

Here's how it works: A scent is digitized based on its molecular composition and its interaction with neuro-receptors in the brain. The result is a digital file that can be embedded into video games, MP3 files, e-mail, Flash animations and streaming media. The end user needs DigiScent's iSmell, a computer accessory similar to a set of speakers, which synthesizes the smell from its palette of "primary odors" and blows scented air out at the user.

The iSmell unit isn't available yet - DigiScent expects to release it sometime in 2001. The company has been coy about pricing so far, saying only that iSmell's retail price would be comparable to other computer accessories such as speakers. DigiScent has big plans for the technology, predicting it'll be a big deal in online advertising (the company already has a strategic relationship with Procter & Gamble). And DigiScent CEO Joel Bellenson says that interested food and beverage, household product and cosmetics companies have been sniffing around.

Meanwhile, DigiScent is launching Snortal, a scent-enabled portal where you can send scented e-mail, register your own smells and create ScentTracks for your favorite movies and music. "We want to become the Napster of smell," says Bellenson.

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