There's plenty of great people on DA still and plenty of people that give good critique. But it's definitely not the place it once was, and I've grown tired of the 'grind' of attempting to keep up with everything here.
Think about this, the main change to the site. Administration. Jark is gone, now the site is about one thing. Money. After all, thats what Spyed wants from this. He doesn't care about each individual deviant, and for all I know, mabye Jark didn't either, but this site has gone downhill alot ever since he was removed. My logic leads him to be the problem. Yea, we've got some snazzy new features... but the emote system and all that crap doesn't do anything for the real focus. Art. Then community. Then cashflow. Thats how it should be. I back you 100% on this one...
You are totally write about the comments. I know I do it from time to time but 'great shot' or 'wonderful writing' means bugger all to an artist. An aritist wants to know about the mood they created, the emotion, how the piece made you feel, how it could be improved, little details you liked/disliked and so on.
People don't seem to be bothered any more. Its a popularity contest and some of the people who are populare aren't even good artists. People get overlooked. I now use this pace to keep in touch with friends I've made and to occasionally comment on a few pieces and when I comment I write a mini novel and if I can't I don't comment at all.
Between the ripped off stuff and the myspace type stuff I don't spend as much time here. I still look for good artists, but I am very careful about giving credit to photos with no EXIF or camera info anymore. At times I am not even comfortable uploading without a watermark anymore. Gonna have to check out those links you posted up.
I was thinking the other day how much emphasis was being put into traffic and the amount of members. How many kids are here as much for the "My Space" kinda thing as posting their art and trying to improve.
I do believe that if you can cut through all the nonsense and remember the friends you've gained here and how much that means it helps, but yeah John, I have seen a dramatic change.
I really don't know of anywhere else that has the ability to get good feedback and more knowledge of fractals though than here and maybe Renderosity, and I don't know if they even have print accounts.
Since photography is less my thing than fractals it makes me look at this issue in a different way.
Hope that helps for you to understand my position.