opinion

Will Scratch-and-Sniff Come to the Web?

Stephen Yagielowicz

It was an interesting idea that caused quite a stir, but it was also an April fool’s joke, when Google launched its “Nose” campaign (www.google.com/landing/nose/), calling it “the new scentsation in search.”

“Smelling is believing,” stated the product website, which explained that users could “go beyond type, talk, and touch for a new notation of sensation,” with its service acting as “your Internet sommelier,” and boasting expertly curated Knowledge Graphs pairing images, descriptions and aromas.

There are other examples of olfactory opportunities for using scent to drive sales: from the aroma of massage candles to a performer’s special scent, which could be sold as a private labeled version of a popular brand — all it takes is star power and distribution.

“Take a whiff [of] the Google Aromabase,” the company exclaimed, noting that it offered “15M+ scentibytes” of data. “Don’t ask, don’t smell,” it continued, comforting those who are wary of their queries that SafeSearch is included.

Claiming that its system is “SMELLCD™ 1.8+ high-resolution compatible for precise and controlled odors,” Google says its NoseBETA “leverages new and existing technologies to offer the sharpest olfactory experience available.”

Google proffered that “Street Sense vehicles have inhaled and indexed millions of atmospheric miles [while] Android Ambient Odor Detection collects smells via the world’s most sensible mobile operating system,” allowing it to support offerings such as scratch-and-sniff books, YouTube Nosed Captions and AdScentBETA for Business.

An elaborate prank, the exercise still serves as an inspiration for adult marketers.

While the musky aroma of a dank swinger’s club may not be your idea of a salable commodity, a fair number of performers have turned a dime from their “scented panties.”

There are other examples of olfactory opportunities for using scent to drive sales: from the aroma of massage candles to a performer’s special scent, which could be sold as a private labeled version of a popular brand — all it takes is star power and distribution.

But how close to reality is the technology alluded to in Google’s giggle?

“This American Life” hostess Nancy Updike visited Cyrano Sciences in Pasadena, Calif., to talk to researchers who are creating an electronic nose. Her interview was part of a look at five ways of mapping the world, from traditional images to techniques that use smell, sound, touch and taste, for a view of the world “redrawn by the five senses.”

“Factories could put electronic noses throughout their plant to detect dangerous gases that might be leaking during the manufacturing process,” Updike stated. “Doctors could use a handheld electronic nose to diagnose pneumonia and other conditions that have distinctive smells.”

She also noted that Germany considered the addition of a scent to its currency as an anticounterfeiting method (and sure benefit to the visually challenged), illustrating the growing range of uses for olfactory technology.

While the science of scent is beyond this article and author, inkjet printers that use a small number of ink cartridges to generate a huge rainbow of colors could be an example for developers wanting a potential solution to “printing” aromas. It may be a product with limited mass market appeal, but revolutionary changes in a variety of fields driven by 3D printing technology shows that “the impossible” may indeed be possible — and accepted.

Regardless of the science or the fiction, the world’s largest traffic company devoted a fair amount of time and resources to thumb its Nose — and if Google is interested in this topic enough to feature it as a “plausible” traffic source, then you probably should be too.

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