Twitter “3D Fail Whale” Widget

July 7th, 2008 by Avatar X Leave a reply »




Ok, this is different to most of what i have posted in Widgets Lab but still manages to stay within the Widgets Theme even if this is more of a BoingBoing like post

The Fail Whale Story

The Fail Whale is the illustration you see above. this illustration called “Lifting A Dreamer” is part of the work of   Yiying Lu, a shanghai born now gone Aussie graphic designer that originally put the illustration in iStockPhoto as a way to showcase her work and make some money and as with any good story never expected what happened next..

Next arrived in the form of Twitter that bought the rights to use the stock photo graphic at 10 dlls as the graphic to be used by twitter whenever the site would need maintenance. the graphic was chosen because of the striking match in color pattern to twitter design and of course for the birdies. it is one of those things full of serendipity like Wizard of OZ and Pink Floyd  “Dark Side of The Moon” things no one can explain but get to happen.

Then came the name of Fail Whale coined in a Tweet (pure poetry right?) by Nick Quaranto in a rare “Eureka” moment.

Why Fail Whale?

The graphic original purpose was to serve as background for whenever Twitter needed to do any sort of maintenance to  the Twitter service. but as anyone that has ever used twitter that never came to be just like that.  just after the graphic was not only created but purchased (the rights of use)  Twitter once thought “momentary” growing pains to scale their service came back to haunt it and it started failing repeatedly during all march of 2008 where people got to get familiar with the “lifting a dreamer” graphic. problems passed on and off during April and returned heavily in May when at the end of that month it would be named “Fail Whale”by Nick Quaranto and so it stuck by the reassurance by Jeff McNeil to Barbara K. Baker of that name that happened in the comments of a Photo that Dave Winer uploaded to Flickr that shows the then still elusive graphic for all to see.

The term Fail comes from the common Internet Culture produced expression “FAIL” that got is own Cult following as a denominated Memetic Phenomenon (a idea/concept that spreads virally thanks to word of mouth and get ingrained into everyone in the process) and is originally derived of the series of phrases “Full of” (Full of Win, Weird, Fail, etc) that originated in Video Games internet forums and that the actual exact source i am not aware. Fail is meant to be said when something has not being accomplished, when something is lame or when the attempt to do something turned awkward.

So you could easily pin all of those to Twitter as a service. even then many were NOT OK with the name and the graphic of the Whale and thought of replacing it with something else like a “Big  TweetBird sitting on a power line” by Mykl Roventine


But the disdain and the discomfort that continued with Twitter and the Graphic only fueled the Fail Whale Fame (thanks to Twitter Co-founder Biz Stone naive push) that finally got its name set in stone (pun intended)  when  Evan Williams, creator of Twitter (Pyra, Blogger, Odeo) acknowledged the name in a Tweet after Tom Limongello  sent him a box of FailWhale T-shirts from the then new Fail Whale Zazzle Merchandise Store that Yiying Lu had set up after deactivating the selling of the now known as Fail Whale Graphic from iStockPhoto because of the demand many had for merchandize with the now famous whale that had its own FanClub (started by Sean Osteen) and Photo Group at Flickr called (Twitter Over Capacity) that is not meant to be a Fail Whale photo group perse but that turned into one because most of the pictures in the photo group had the whale in it. there is even a little animated short too.


The 3D Fail Whale Widget

Everything that gets famous needs a widget. so the Fail Whale needed one and here it is. it is a very simple video widget of the Kinetic Sculpture of the Fail Whale done by Australian Artist and Puppet Master Hilary Talbot. the reasons behind the making of such thing come from her very optimistic ways on twitter and this post:

The hero that is Fail Whale

The best of the widget is that it of course represents a funny statement all by itself and at the same time showcases the very cool piece of work made by talbot of what is now a “Famous Character” captured in  a video with Tweets and all that can be seen in full screen without your visitors need of leaving your page.

<div><iframe src=”” width=”185″ height=”225″ frameborder=”0″ name=”whaget”></iframe></div>

(just copy and paste)

This Widget is good if you are a unashamed Twitter Apologist, a Fail Whale Lover or simply you like to kick Twitter while it is down (pun intended) you just need this widget adorning your  blog to make your  favorite Twitter Widget or Badge company.

If you liked this post please tell me what you thought of it, link to it and share it around also if possible


  1. Alexandra says:

    Hah! What a great story. I love knowing the history of this beautiful image. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Jane Chin says:

    Came here from your comment at the other article; I see that you had written something similar, and earlier.

  3. Avatar says:

    @Jane Chin: Oh yes, i did it 10 days before sarah post. but her version was good too and she didn`t knew. coincidences happen.

    Thanks for visiting.

  4. Hil says:

    Thank you!

  5. Avatar says:

    @Hil: No problem 🙂

  6. Yiying says:

    Thanks for the great story, Avatar. Actually the image was initially created as a birthday e-card for an overseas friend of mine when I was in my early last year study at University – expressing my: Sorry I am failed to be there across the ocean, but here is a little console from my heart. The whale is a self metaphor. Hence the original name I had for that artwork was “lifting a dreamer”. 🙂

  7. Avatar says:

    @Yiying: oh i see. that is great. i may add that and rewrite that part. thanks for your visit. i like you other work too. i like the finesse of it.

  8. Hi there, I’d appreciate it if my last name could be spelled correctly both times it’s mentioned. Thanks for the recognition!

  9. Avatar says:

    oops. it is now corrected.

  10. Hannah says:

    Whoo! Go Fail Whale!

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