I can see the technical reason for switching away from the notification area, and I see how it can be difficult to want to do cool things *now* rather than wait for upstream Gnome to implement what you want, but I wish they had done more to bring this up at the Usability Hackfest. I wonder if they brought up the "buttons on the left," at the hackfest, too. The button situation is another pretty big differentiator between them and upstream Gnome.
Perhaps these examples can be something to keep in mind for later Usability Hackfests (e.g., "Ok, Canonical folks, thanks for your input on items X,Y,Z. Do you have any other changes that you want to get into upstream Gnome in the next year or so that you want to tell us about? Let's make sure to discuss those, too.") I'm not sure how Canonical folks would take to that, as I think they use these changes to differentiate themselves in the FLOSS marketplace.