Monday, June 28, 2010

Perfume and Technology

Every where I go, people are all excited about about using technology to make things better. Social networking technology to better promote one's work. Tools created to improve shopping experiences or guide the choices of purchasers. But a lot of these tools tends to institutionalize biases of all sorts -- from providing continued memetic primacy of certain brands to biases of perspective when it comes to product evaluation.

Seems like everyone is talking about the new Givaudan iPhone application, iPerfumer. Well I have an iPhone, and I like technology. I also usually approach these sorts of applications with a mixture of hesitant delight and wary expectation. I know that technology is frequently not capable of (or often times even trying to) deliver anything close to what it promises. At the same time, where others have technofear, I try to embrace technojoy and look for the opportunities technology open to experience the world and its infinite stores of information in useful and interesting ways. So I decided to give iPerfumer a whirl.

Here's my problem, generally, with technologies that are meant to help you select a perfume. They tend to fall into two problems. The first, which I've written about before, is that they tend to focus on dividing the world of scent into binary gendered realms. When what perfume you should where is determined first and foremost by your biology, I just suspect everything you do. The iPerfumer manages to avoid this problem entirely, which I applaud. Never once does it ask, at least, what sex you are or the sex of the individual you might be shopping for. (Though it does divide its recommendations into masculine or feminine scents, it still recommends items from both categories based on your preferences.)

Unfortunately, iPerfumer does fall into the second problem. These tools tend to be developed by specific sellers who are attempting to 'aid' the buyer in purchasing selections she will like, but the selections are limited to whatever products that seller is pushing. While the aforementioned Macy's Scent Finder (and the terrifyingly similar Sephora Scent Finder) also suffer from this inherent flaw, it seems universal that the only scents recommended consist of a very narrow selection within the world of perfumes. In the case of iPerfumer, the system used to select recommendations is further compounded by the narrowness.

If you haven't used iPerfumer, let me tell you how it works. iPerfumer makes its recommendation selections based on what scents the user chooses to list along with a 1-5 star rating. You can search by house or scent name. Then, based on the kinds of scents you indicate that you like or loathe, respectively, it makes recommendations. iPerfumer has limited scents to recommend like any other scent finder technology I've found, but its limited listings also effect the actual selection process. Also iPerfumer features "Top Rated" and "New Launches" lists, so if you want to smell just like everyone else, they're going to make that super easy for you.

Many of the scents I truly love aren't even available for rating through iPerfumer. No Tauers, no CB I Hates, no Afetliers, no Ava Luxes, not even many of the Bond No. 9 scents were included for rating or recommendation.  By contrast, I think every celebrity scent ever made is available for rating.  By not being able to list that which I love, it becomes impossible for iPerfumer to make appropriate recommendations for me even among the limited scents it has to recommend.

You know what I'd love? I'd love for someone to apply the iPerfumer technology to a wider database, like the one that has accumulated on Make-Up Alley. I'd love to be able to tell a widget what scents I love and what scents I loathe and get some recommendations. It's just too bad that no one has managed to merge the two. Perhaps that will be the next step.


Victoria said...

I'm happy that you reviewed the app. I wanted to try it but I feared it would be limited. It seems that my gut was right. For a while now, I've been thinking of a broad program like you've mentioned (makeupalley, etc). A collaboration of lots of individuals/bloggers recommendations including scents from the mainstream and the niche. I'm not tech savvy enough to develop such a program. But, I see the need for it and I think it is coming. I'm sick of being "sold" or suggested things based on my gender or my age. I feel like I'm being pushed the generic "fragrance of the week". It's frustrating.

Becca said...

I'm glad *someone* finally came out with an app that doesn't split the scents into male/female. It shows some improvement at least.

What would be really great is a database with a search engine or app like iperfumer and a wiki-type ability to add perfumes that aren't on the list. Perfumers could also add theirs to the database so people could find them, and that way it wouldn't be so limited.