The problem with social media sites and the internet where the administrators have to monitor everything to be certain of staying within all global laws and cultures.Trying not to be offensive or receive punishments from some places. Is that there is no "debate" on the Internet. only discussion that has to stay within narrow guidelines. Never straying into different areas like a normal conversation or debate in a "pub" I use "pub" because I'm British.
You will never get a situation within tightly controlled guidelines, on the internet, where after an hour someone might say how the heck did we get onto discussing the price of "sweets in Australia" when we started off debating "alien life forms". That is a normal and natural conversation.
EDIT It's "candies in Australia" for Americans
Very nice of you to have conducted a survey, Richard :)
My answers to your questions:
1) Conclusion: many members here are just, sorry, lazy, so instead of actually improving their language skills by participating in discussions OR writing to the 100 people who have already posted a language partner request they just go and post another language request in the hope a native speaker will contact them immediately and make them fluent in English in under 10 days
2) Sadly, as a marketplace
3) Yes, it does, thanks to the members like you, Richard, who always post helpful/interesting posts
4) I hope it won't happen that soon if we all do our best and leave as many comments as possible to keep it at the top :)
if someone's English "isn't that great", as you said, that doesn't mean they can't participate. Discussing is a great way to improve your skill, no matter what level you are. Discussions here on italki don't have to be about astrophysics or whatnot, pre-intermediate learners can discuss their hobbies, countries, or cultures. I have started a few discussions in Japanese too, even though my Japanese is only elementary, but I tried to understand the comments first without the help of the dictionary, and then I consulted the dictionary and learned new words and phrases. The point isn't that your comments should be grammatically perfect, the point is that people can share their opinions and communicate and learn languages and something new along the way.
But many people here are just lazy. They don't want to read a post and try to write down their opinion about it. Heck, they can even ask native speakers in the comments nicely to correct their mistakes (which I did in my posts in Japanese), and I've seen some other learners do it, and they got corrections on their comments and posts so that they could analyze their mistakes and actually improve. But most italki users just don't want to; don't want to exert effort, don't want to try. They just want someone to magically teach them but it won't happen because language learning is about their effort, not others'.
I think the problem is that more people use italki as an app. I personally use the web version of italki, and never used it as an app. I came to conclusion that the app is inconvenient to use. There are a lot of "I'm new in/at this app..., what is this app?, how to use it?, etc." Perhaps, the first thing they see is the Discussion page which, on the app, looks like an advertisement board. So, they just do what others do, advertise themselves without bothering to scroll down the page and read identical posts.
Does the Discussion section have a future? I doubt it.