An article on Vitamin today discussed why the author does not use social sites. The ending argument was that the author didn’t have time for their own work and they certainly didn’t have time to be social on one of these new sites.
I understand where they are coming from and have felt this myself from time to time.
Then I think of all of the times (multiple per day) that I have searched and found the answer to a problem that I had on a person’s blog or buried in a forum somewhere. While it would be nearly impossible to thank each person that you receive help from via the internet, I do feel a very strong responsibility to give back to the system. If I save a day of work that I would have struggled to figure something out because somebody took the time to detail their solution on a site, the least I can do is put my own experiences on the web. I rarely comment on others’ sites and just as often participate in forums, but if I get it out there somewhere (such as on my blog) then I know that it will be indexed by the search engines and somebody may find an answer to a problem that they run into. Heck, since I run into the same problems over and over, I find the answer to some of my questions on my own blog.
Social sites like del.icio.us and flickr that encourage everyone to chip in can make that goal easier. If I post my bookmarks to somewhere like del.icio.us, then everyone can benefit from things I find instead of them being locked up on my computer. Flickr allows photos to be shared and aggregated, giving views of places and events from many perspectives. These services, among others, can probably be tied into tools that you are already using and can be used in creative ways. I almost never visit these sites. When I take a picture on my phone or export it from iPhoto, it goes to Flickr, which publishes it in such a way that my blog can display it. My browser, Flock, can publish all bookmarks to del.icio.us, which then appear on my blog also. These sites become middleware agents that allow data to be liberated in exciting ways.
So forget about any feelings that if you use a social site that you need to be commenting and participating in that community. Find a way to contribute to the larger community of the internet. Use these services as a way to save time, to work contribution to the internet into what you are already doing, and to perhaps without even knowing it, help somebody out.