Back in 2008, when Twitter was prone to crashes, users got to know the "Fail Whale"—a cartoon animal being lifted out of the water by birds. The image is the work of artist Yiying Lu, who posted it that year to the website iStockPhoto.com. That's where Twitter co-founder Biz Stone found it, reports the New York Times, which has the artwork (the whale's also got its own feed). The image grew popular with users of the social network, something Lu didn't realize until a fan let her know. "I didn’t even have a Twitter account," she says. And following Twitter's IPO, she doesn't have stock in the site, either—"yet," she says.
The success of the image led to more opportunities for Lu, a Shanghai native. Conan O'Brien commissioned a similar piece for his TBS show, this one dubbed "Pale Whale" and featuring the comedian riding on the whale. Twitter engineers commissioned an owl logo for the site's maintenance service. Lu isn't angry over the length of time it took Twitter to credit her for the work, she tells the Times. Still, "tech companies should compensate artists who contribute to their company’s value," she notes. "It’s important to humanize technology."