Art of Message

Art of Message – June 26, 2023

The unexpected arrival of a new keystone species

Examples of keystone species include African elephants, beavers, sea otters, and Zapier.

That’s a little broad, so let’s carve out a subset – animals.

What do elephants, sea otters, and beavers have in common? First, they all spend significant time in forested areas, if you count kelp habitats as such.

Second, they diversify. Through physical transformation, they change the ecological landscape in ways that create and support new life.

The African Elephant

An elephant herd eats and tramples out swathes of grassland amid forests, opens up water sources by puncturing lake beds, and ports genetic seed data from one sector to another.

It’s an ecosystem integration engineer.

Now let’s widen the lense back out, until technology platforms are in view.


Zapier also engineers its ecosystem – our economy itself.

Over the past decade, none of its rivals has spawned so much new life.

2.2 million companies use Zapier. And for many, it’s essential infrastructure. For dabblers and non-technical entrepreneurs, consultants, and clever employees, it’s the first experience automating the integration of apps.

Zapier makes simple integration hacks economically viable. For example, this simple Airtable-to-Gmail zap: someone fills out a webform, and boom, you get a draft email ready to send as a follow-up (like after they appear on your podcast).

For the entire 2010s, you did well to at least play with Zapier if not build it into your solutions, as Calendly, Lucidchart, Orchard, and others have done.

That’s still true.


But a bigger elephant than Zapier has come along.

OpenAI’s API by itself is the agent of almost all economic activity related to text-based generative AI and will ultimately create even more economic life. Like Zapier, it’s a keystone species.

And OpenAI has another parallel to Zapier – the best way to understand it is to build something with it.

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