This sense of entitlement, unsurprisingly, runs directly contrary to the developers' belief in meritocracy. When users assume they have the right to complain simply because they are using the software, developers see them as bike-shedders, wasting developers' time and assuming privileges that they have not earned through contributions and experience.
With such a difference in outlook, in retrospect the clash between developers and users over GNOME 3 was only to be expected. Add the natural conservatism of users focused on their tasks rather than the desktop, and the inflated expectations caused by the year delay in GNOME 3, and the conflict seems more or less inevitable.
The problem is not who is to blame. The problem is that the attitudes of developers and users have become so different that reconciling them requires far more effort than anybody has bothered to make.
On a technical level, there is no reason why GNOME cannot survive the user revolt. After all, KDE did.
Some of the changes that people complain about can be fixed by turning a switch on or off in the code, and features and customization can be added by the installation of GNOME Shell Extensions. Should the complaints become too severe, then GNOME 3's fallback mode, which resembles earlier releases, can be used. Some distributions, perhaps, may bundle GNOME so that fallback mode becomes the default.
Other changes may come in the next releases. Just as KDE did, in four or five releases, GNOME 3 could be far more tolerant of alternate workflows.
But does the will exist within GNOME to make the changes in time to keep the project in its prominent position? Making major changes would amount to an admission that two years of work was partly misguided. In any project that admission would be difficult to make, let alone in one that seems divorced from its user base.
Nor is the user base, having already changed desktops at least once, likely to wait around for the improvements that it thinks it is entitled to get. With Torvalds' somewhat grudging endorsement of Xfce, unsatisfied GNOME users may follow his lead, or realize that, unlike other operating systems, Linux offers a choice of interfaces.
With these possibilities emerging, the future history of GNOME promises to be both interesting and painful.