Story of the Twitter Fail Whale Image
J Thoendell stashed this in Tech
Ms. Lu, who was born in Shanghai, moved to New South Wales, Australia, as a teenager and later studied in London at the Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design. She created the whale as a birthday icon she would send to friends who were scattered around the world. It was meant to depict a whale so full of good wishes that it needed a little help from its bird friends.
In 2008, she posted it to iStockphoto.com, a royalty-free service where photographers and artists can post their work and license it for a small fee.
Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, went to iStockphoto during Twitter’s early days when the site hit a rough patch with regular shutdowns. He was looking for a cheap image that could be used as a symbol when the Twitter site was down temporarily but would return soon. Ms. Lu’s image struck a chord with him and, as it soon became apparent, with Twitter’s followers.
Ms. Lu only discovered later that Twitter was using her whale image when a fan — one of many around the world who had named the image ‘Fail Whale’ — contacted her to congratulate her. “When it came up I had no idea,” she said, “I didn’t even have a Twitter account.”