So why now does the rating system receive complaints? Well, it's an easy call really. I think one of the biggest complaints is that your fate rating-wise is left entirely out of your hands. So it becomes an exercise in game-theory when you decide how to approach interacting with the community. If you take hardline stances, sometimes there are people who are going to approve.. some will not approve. It's going to be the ebb and flow of the system and it's the way of the world to some degree.
When I peruse the list of highly rated people I tend to see lists of people who are either technically proficient to a high degree, or bring a lot to the community as a member of the site.
So why not switch to system XYZ where XYZ is a slashdot-like approach, or ratings per thread, etc. Well, I've seen those systems in action and honestly I don't like them. Slashdot, for example, is not really so much a community as it is a posting free-for-all. Slashdot deals with huge amounts of posts with relatively short and limited user recognition of peers.
This system is strongly patterned after the united states chess federation style of ratings. The one thing that doesn't occur is a balance to the system. The system is capable of perpetually growing in size and ratings can accumulate to an infinite degree. If this was true USCF style, you would actually lose points when you decide to rate someone.. because the points for someone else have to come from somewhere.
However, we have seen the sytem work to quite a stable degree for a while now.. which was our initial primary concern. Ratings encompass a pretty broad spectrum now from a bit below 2100 on down. While it is possible to boost a person up literally overnight, it is hard to create the kind of ratings cartel that would make that possible without being spotted (it was attempted in the early days following this system's launch).
So why do I consider the system good then? I consider it good because, if anything, the sense of responsibility for one's own actions and the actions of others are put back into the game. With an increasingly large community it would be detrimental to allow flame wars to take over the forums. If you've seen other boards where this starts to happen, you know that it spreads like a plague and eventually destroys the entire community. So for us, things like the rating system allow for a community-wide policing system. Everyone, in a sense, is a moderator of the community at large and we all ultimately decide in our own ways what we want out of such a community. I would say that that it leaves moderators open to deal with more significant issues that occur within the forums.
And lastly, why not replace with a text representation for every X points? My opinion on this one.. people will shit a brick if they drop down an entire level. And while it may be neat to go up levels, it would happen so rarely as to demotivate people to use the system.
So there ya go, that's where I stand.