The company goal went from building great communities, to building a great network of unrelated sites. Although this change will help the name stackexchange it will hurt the individual communities.
Yes naming is hard, and it isn't needed for all communities. But by taking away the name, you're taking the "cool" and hence some of the excitement out of the community...
- Google's name is not "Search Engine" that wouldn't be cool.
- Apple's name is not "Phone, hardware and operating systems" that wouldn't be cool.
- Microsoft's name isn't "Operating systems and software"
- stackoverlfow's name isn't "Coding questions"
See my inline comments below which address each of your concerns.
Not all communities seem able to do it, as in they can't even agree on which is the "least worst" (literally) of their choices.
The community should have the decision to keep their name as webapps.stackexchange.com. If you simply provide a list of reasons why this is good for the community I'm sure most communities would make that decision.
When users see a Wikipedia link in their search results, they know what to expect. Hopefully when users see a stackexchange.com link they would also know to expect high quality Q&A. But what can they expect when they see nothingtoinstall.com or one of 25+ other domains? Unknown.
Wikipedia is one community, the whole idea of stackexchange is to have a bunch of focused communities. If you wanted one community you'd have Yahoo! answers all over again. If you are designing for first rate communities then your members will be overall disjoint. If you are designing for second rate communities filled with only programmers then seeing .stackexchange.com is useful.
Also no one would need to remember 25+ domain names. If a member wanted to be part of every one of those communities they would be a pretty useless member to each of those communities. People only need to remember the 1, 2 or 3 communities they are a part of.
Additionally, Google traffic makes up a HUGE percentage of our traffic and it hurts our Google ranking by breaking up into a series of top-level domains. That means less eyeballs, and ultimately less Q&A.
If this is really about page rank then wouldn't rolling stackoverflow into a .stackexchange.com really help out the page rank? Ditto serverfault and superuser? Wouldn't that also help build the "This is quality content" thought? Since those communities are good and do provide quality content?
I'm not saying here that I think we should change to stackoverflow.stackexchange.com but I am saying the above because it proves that the concern isn't as big as you make it out to be.
The confusion that some people are talking about Web Apps while others are talking about "Nothing to Install".
Jeff posted a comment on an answer to this question which says that after a community gets to the size of serverfault then they will consider giving a name to that community. If you guys really had a concern here that comment shouldn't have been posted.
That will pass but become a bigger, more confusing problem as the network grows and we have (currently) 25+ different pairs of domain names to refer to!
Again you're trying to build a network when you should be trying to build great communities.
Are you losing hype for your community?
I think you probably will in the end. For example I would blog about a topic that interests me when a new site is launched but I wouldn't blog that a new subdomain was created to an existing network. The second boom in people blogging and talking about your site really helps the community growth.
http://twitter.com/#search?q=nothingtoinstall right now has a ton of entries referring to nothingtoinstall going live.