I also have mixed feelings about panels. I don't like the feeling of being on the outside looking in with no way to contribute, but I have found a few of the panels interesting enough to keep reading.
I liked @apm's habit of posting a conversation to announce his panels ahead of the panel discussion. It gave me an idea of what to expect and it provided a way to provide input / ask questions.
Most of the conversations labeled as panels seem to be one-on-one interviews. Some seem like they are pushing a product, pretty much an ad.
The panels I have found most interesting surprise me because they were not about topics in which I have any connection at all. Thinking back, the panels that were interesting to me were @apm interview with @amacbean16 about homeschooling (https://www.cake.co/conversations/FmNmsLP/an-interview-with-amacbean-about-homeschooling) and your discussion on building Cake (https://www.cake.co/conversations/Z9xxz1r/cake-s-first-panel-conversation-the-cake-team-on-why-we-built-panels).