Here's my more complete commentary on 'Panels' for the sake of constructive discussion:
I have to admit I've mostly been ignoring panels. Right or wrong, I have a specific idea of what a panel discussion should be - a group of experts who have gathered together to discuss a particular issue, from which others can learn. I've seldom seen the 'panel' feature used for this kind of discussion on Cake, however. My experience of panels is that there is a moderator who introduces the subject, keeps track of time, and basically moderates. On a panel, panelists are introduced by the moderator or themselves, and their credentials are established. Each will then take a turn to introduce their principle point, and afterward the discussion is encouraged to continue between them. The moderator may direct some specific questions to members. When the discussion has run its course, the moderator calls for closing thoughts.
What I've seen so far on Cake doesn't so far follow this logic. I've seen panels used for a few things:
1. Interviews, which makes total sense to me. As an interviewer, you'd like to be able to control the conversation until the interview is done, and then open for questions. I've read a few of these (I must admit I'm seldom taken by the subject matter, but that's irrelevant to their utility as a format). I remember one or two instances when I was prompted to ask questions before the interview was released. Since I had not idea what the interviewee would say, I found it was a premature time to ask questions, so I usually never bothered to. Once, I remember being able to ask questions after the interview, and after other people started to ask questions. I thought that was a much more useful approach.
2. Conversation starters, which is what I've been seeing lately. I absolutely understand the desire to draw people into conversation, and frankly I wish I had the tool at my book club to invite people to a conversation! But what I'm seeing in these panels is basically a bunch of people - most of whom seem not to be experts, but maybe have an opinion to express - express one thought each, and then the conversation wraps up. I think the issue here is that experts aren't really being used, so most people don't have a lot to say. And because they aren't experts, they are reluctant to respond to what others have to say. So really, these are just conversations that people have been asked to join.
I think that's a great feature to have, but lets not call them 'panels', because they aren't. Maybe having the ability to invite specific people to a particular non-panel conversation would be a nice feature for the wish-list. It needn't be publicized who was invited, so those who weren't needn't feel excluded. This would also allow us to save the panel feature for actual panels - which I also think is a cool feature, btw. Maybe, while were in wish-list mode, another special kind of conversation - the 'interview' - could also be added.
I'd also like to point out that I think @Dracula 's point about exclusion is quite valid. If you consider McLuhan's notion that 'the medium is the message', then it's important to also consider what message you are sending to people when you chose the 'panel' as the medium.
The current 'panel' model sends the message that some people are included, and that others are excluded (or at least included differently). It creates a class system in the community. I totally agree that it's frustrating (and I remember this happening to me) when you have something to contribute to a topic that you actually know something about, but find yourself unable to do so because, I guess, the person who initiated the discussion didn't think to include you. To flip the coin, I've also been invited to participate in panels, but declined because I felt they weren't really discussions that required experts, or that I was in no way an expert on the subject myself.
Sorry for the long post, but hopefully there's some food for thought in there.