The other day lawyer involved in a federal criminal trial asked me to explain, briefly, what exactly it is that I do. I couldn’t do it. This is something I’ve tackled before and that I need to get better at. As much as I like people not knowing what I do, it’s hard to pitch my services or answer questions when then come up, or even explain why I’m valuable. I’ve had people before say they know I would be useful on their project but couldn’t explain why. I thought that was cool, but I think maybe someone, likely me, should be able to articulate it.

When trying to explain I usually mention a few specifics and hope people can put those pieces together. I mention running Metblogs, and note that it’s the largest network of city specific blogs on the web. I point this out to show some knowledge of both online communities and local media. I causally mention sixspace and random music things to show that I haven’t been 100% online forever and have strong creative aspects that play into my thought process. I mention consulting for companies and artists to help them understand the web and how to interact with their customers and fans better. I mention organizing events to show that I can bring people together for common causes. Recently I’ve also mentioned setting up hackerspaces and helping build a tech ecosystem in Singapore. This ends up being a very wordy description that is all over the place. Some people see the common threads, some people are left spinning.

Ignoring the specifics of any job or clients, and speaking from a much more general vantage point a lot of what I do can be described as a collection of curating, community organizing, and pattern recognition. There was a time when I liked to call my self an entrepreneur but the fact of the matter is that making companies has never been my passion. Running a record label, an art gallery, an blog network, and now a hackerspace – none of those were about some exciting business venture as much as they were about an exciting community that I wanted to be a part of, and the best way to be a part of something is to contribute and give something back to it.

Now this approach hasn’t made me rich, but by and large it’s made me happy and since I know a lot of rich people who definitely aren’t happy I think that’s a win. Granted the reason I think I need to explain what I do a little better is that I need more people to pay me for doing it, so I’m not saying money isn’t important. I like to have insurance and know that my power isn’t going to get turned off as much as the next guy, and honestly I need to be able to afford to travel to stay in touch with the people and groups that keep me in touch, and keep me useful. So of course adding more money to the above equation equals an even bigger win.

But that isn’t the point.

The curating I think is the point. It’s the common thread that I never really noticed. With the record label I curated bands, not ones that sounded like each other, but ones that complimented each other. With the art gallery, admittedly I didn’t personally do a lot of this, but the goal was to curate artists, not ones that looked similar but ones that visually and creatively worked well together. With the blogs we are obviously curating cities and bloggers within them, as well as the stories we cover in those cities. With events it’s curating the speakers, not so they are all talking about the same thing, but so that what they are talking about tells a bigger story. I’m not sure yet what the specific curating angle of the hackerspaces is, but as I get deeper into it I suspect its going to have something to do with the projects we tackle and how they end up playing with each other and inspiring offshoots.

Curating depends on pattern recognition so perhaps one is a subset of the other. But curating is traditionally used in reference to art, and clearly that doesn’t fit the bill here.

In some respects I’m a bit of a cultural curator, but that’s just a piece of it. Is there such thing as a community curator? If there is I’m a bit of that too I suspect. It’s hard to explain because so much of what I do is not seen by the public. It’s not even seen by clients because it’s a behind the scenes collection of fitting pieces together that aren’t intended to click. A friend recently said that what I do is black ops, which I like and is fitting in a whole other way.

I know I haven’t answered the question yet, but if I had the answer I’d have had no reason to write this post.