Bomis ( to rhyme with "promise") was a dot-com company best known for supporting the creations of free-content online-encyclopedia projects Nupedia and Wikipedia. It was founded in 1996 by Jimmy Wales, Tim Shell and Michael Davis. Davis became acquainted with Wales after hiring him at Chicago Options Associates in 1994, and Wales became friends with Shell through mailing lists discussing philosophy. The primary business of Bomis was the sale of advertising on the Bomis.com search portal.
The company initially tried a number of ideas for content, including being a directory of information about Chicago. The site subsequently focused on content geared to a male audience, including information on sporting activities, automobiles and women. Bomis became successful after focusing on X-rated media. "Bomis Babes" was devoted to erotic images; the "Bomis Babe Report" featured adult pictures. Bomis Premium, available for an additional fee, provided explicit material. "The Babe Engine" helped users find erotic content through a web search engine. The advertising director for Bomis noted that 99 percent of queries on the site were for nude women.
Bomis created Nupedia as a free online encyclopedia (with content submitted by experts) but it had a tedious, slow review process. Wikipedia was initially launched by Bomis to provide content for Nupedia, and was a for-profit venture (a Bomis subsidiary) through the end of 2002. As the costs of Wikipedia rose with its popularity, Bomis' revenues declined as result of the dot-com crash. Since Wikipedia was a drain on Bomis' resources, Wales and philosophy graduate student Larry Sanger decided to fund the project as a charity; Sanger was laid off from Bomis in 2002. Nupedia content was merged into Wikipedia, and it ceased in 2003.
The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation began in 2003 with a Board of Trustees composed of Bomis' three founders (Wales, Davis and Shell) and was first headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida, Bomis' location. Wales used about US$100,000 of revenue from Bomis to fund Wikipedia before the decision to shift the encyclopedia to non-profit status. Wales stepped down from his role as CEO of Bomis in 2004. Shell served as CEO of the company in 2005, while on the Wikimedia Foundation board of trustees. Wales edited Wikipedia in 2005 to remove the characterizations of Bomis as providing softcore pornography, which attracted media attention; Wales expressed regret for his actions. The Atlantic gave Bomis the nickname " Playboy of the Internet", and the term caught on in other media outlets. Scholars have described Bomis as a provider of softcore pornography.