The story of the iconic Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) “Fail Whale” which was put to death this week is both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. It’s nostalgic at the same as it is a look into Twitter’s future.

fail whale twitter

The story of Yiying Lu, the artist behind Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR)’s “Fail Whale,” is almost Shakespearean in its bits of both tragedy and triumph. Rather than more hyperbole, Lu may receive “nothing” for her work that she posted online in 2008.

The artist

Ms. Lu, 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 originally designed the image of the whale being held aloft by birds as a birthday wish for the scores of friends she had staggered around the world.

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.

From there it’s a matter for the history books. In 2008, Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, was on the hunt for a “cheap” image to use when Twitter crashed. Twitter was often down in 2008, and Stone apparently thought that, “We don’t know what we’re doing, but give us an hour (two?). Here is a whale being carried by birds to look at, carry on,” was the way to go.

Due to the frequency of Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) service outages, the “fail whale” became an icon for a company that struggled in its infancy with massive growth.

R.I.P. Twitter “Fail Whale”

The “eulogy” for the “fail whale”, delivered by Christopher Fry, senior vice president of engineering at Twitter, will certainly feel lacking in many Twitter users eyes.

“The Fail Whale is a thing of the past,” Fry told Wired. “Actually, this summer we took the Fail Whale out of production. So if you come to Twitter, and there are always gonna be problems, no service is ever perfect. But right now you will see robots instead of the Fail Whale. So the Fail Whale image is not served by Twitter anymore. It had a long history and some of our users feel very connected to it. But in the end, it did represent a time when I don’t think we lived up to what the world needed Twitter to be.”

Short, succinct, and made harsher by the artist’s situation. In the post-IPO of Twitter, we will not be treated to another start-up Cinderella and Cinderella story.

“I have no stock,” Ms. Lu said. “Yet.”

That’s not to say that Lu hasn’t reaped some benefits for her whale. She was commissioned by Conan O’Brien for the Conan show image when he acrimoniously parted ways with NBC in 2010.

Ms. Lu has also received a Shorty Award, which was created for Twitter users, and in a bit of a ‘let’s throw her something’, a Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) engineer commissioned Ms. Lu to create a logo this year for Twitter’s “capacity service” team of engineers. For those who keep the website up, the image is of a bird equipped with the hardware to do the job. Ok, it’s a bird with some cogs and a wrench.

R.I.P “Fail Whale” and best of luck to you, Ms. Lu.