"but is a desktop environment the right project to bootstrap that from?"
GNOME (and also KDE) have long ago surpassed being "a desktop project".
I think a more accurate description would be that they are a community for end user computing needs. And those needs have expanded from desktop environment plus a couple of often used applications.
This is also not a new development, the scope has already been expanded several years back and the latest changes are just taking new external realities into consideration.
Some of the previous changes were e.g. adjustments to applications and infrastructure to deal with the expansion of end user scope from desktop to desktops and laptops.
E.g. NetworkManager for dynamically managing network connections, offline support for important protocols like IMAP, etc.