Twitter users are very familiar with the iconic image of the Fail Whale. This social object has been latched onto by Twitter fans not just as a representation of Twitter's downtime, but also as a representation of the community's love for the service and their hope for its triumph over their many struggles. Despite Twitter's troubles, most of its users stayed true, watching and waiting as the team began the long process of recoding the application in order for it to scale up. As Twitter succumbed to the strain of running their under-provisioned service, the Fail Whale "over capacity" image would appear. And this image began to take on a life of its own. This is the story of the Fail Whale.
Fail Whale's Beginnings
You probably thought that Twitter was using designs they paid for, right? Well, apparently that was not the case. The designer behind the Fail Whale, Yiying Lu, had posted the image to the stock photo web site, iStockPhoto. (She has now removed the original link). Although the image of the Fail Whale was widely known, the designer herself was not. Tom Limongello decided to change that.
Tom had once made himself a Fail Whale t-shirt from a screenshot which he wore at a Mashable party. Of course, the shirt was a huge hit. But Tom couldn't really post the shirts for sale because he didn't have rights to the design. Yet, here was an entire community of Fail Whale fans - many of which who had gathered at failwhale.com - who wanted a shirt of their own.
But then Tom met the designer Yiying Lu when her iStockPhoto link was tweeted to the @FailWhale Twitter user from Twitterer @emmastory. The Fail Whale project (@FailWhale, failwhale.com) is a community effort created by Sean O'Steen, (@seanostee) whose mission was to create a brand from the Fail Whale phenomenon. Sean is responsible for the Fail Whale web site and the Twitter profile, but the name "Fail Whale" itself was coined by Nick Quaranto.