While you both agree (Joe and Eric) on the Area being upgraded, from a users perspective it makes sense.
I post this so hopefully you'll understand some of the recent events and give you a unemotional business perspective on the issue.
I'd like to point out that from Autodesk's or any Business's perspective it does not make sense to upgrade it (even though they are looking for a web developer) or even have the Area at all.
Because it basically does not maximize business profits, simply put the Area costs money for it to exist. In business terms the Area is a cost center.
Clearly what Autodesk should be doing is externalizing the cost, by allowing and supporting (approved) 3rd parties to create a si/max/maya etc forums. Where they off load the costs and staffing and any negative consequences (as mentioned above post). This is a typical modern business practice. And given the current restructuring I see no good reason why it has not happened.
You might not like this concept, its not mentioned for you to like or no, it's mentioned because its a proven way to realize profits, manage perception, and externalize costly responsibility. And given the route Autodesk is following it would only make sense to completely invest in externalization all aspects of it's business. It's surprising that Mr Bass has not extended his fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders by extending cost externalization of this clear and apparent cost center to its fullest and most logical extent.
I understand you might not agree with this, but that is irrelevant, this is business survival, and with all the new tools at siggraph the pressure is obviously increasing to maintain and grow profitability.
That’s important as one has to realize that the likes of Mr. Bass has a legal responsibility, not to the users, not to the staff, but is legally bound to solely be concerned for the shareholders above all else, which is reflected in the share dividend and stock price, you've just seen those forces in play.
As one someone nicely put, if you want loyalty get a dog, because its trench warfare out there, and the nice guy doesn't always win.
I fully understand the point you are making here.
That said, here is my opinion on the matter.
1. A 3rd party attempting to run such a site will almost certainly fail over the long-term.
2. While I agree it is a cost center... it's a drop in the bucket to AD bottom line and it's from my POV it's a worthwhile investment.
I don't expect anyone to agree with me... this is purely my opinion.