Well said, and we are in agreement, for the most part. Except for the appearance issue, on which I'd just like to address three things here.
- The desire to improve the site's appearance doesn't arise from a concern solely with appearance. It arises with a concern that appearance should be at least considered, rather than dismissed out of hand because content is more important (which we are in complete agreement on). If changing the appearance were to degrade the quality of content in any way at all, I would be totally against it. But I think it's possible to have both.
- You're right, what's current now will be passe in the future. But that's part of the problem: The fact that the site doesn't change is noticed. It makes it look like nobody cares enough, or that the site is not important enough, to warrant having its look-and-feel updated every few years. Also, "if it aint broke" is an irrelevant argument to the newcomers unfamiliar with the community. The site just looks like it's old and nobody cares. That's incorrect of course, but I feel that's the impression that's made.
- Making the appearance modern does not require flash, "fancy" images, or AJAX. The default site already loads an image largely for humour value. That same bandwidth could be used for a sprite table, rendered using CSS (just for example). It does involve taking into account best practices on usability that have been developed over the years. If you've read Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, it should be quite apparent that this site, in fact, requires quite a bit of thought. That might have been the norm in the late nineties, but not anymore. As I said, the actual process of streamlining would take some effort, but I think it's at least worth considering.
That's my $0.02. When all is said and done, this isn't the most important thing to address out of this thread by far. I think more functional and content-oriented ideas should have more weight, but I wanted to make my position more clear.