Well. I've been hosting sites at Dreamhost since mid-1998, so I guess that qualifies as "a while" .
My experience with Dreamhost has been overwhelmingly positive. That is not to say that there have not been problems, and this past summer there were some pretty rough stretches. I think it is important to keep a sense of perspective, however, and that is sometimes hard to do when reviewing the status pages and forum posts.
Consider that, in many instances, negative forum posts are the result of normal human frustration, and as such, many are not very objective. A user may have hosted here for a long period of time without ever posting on the forum or making a comment on one of the Dreamhost blogs until, one day, his site doesn't work right, he can't get a "quick enough" tech support response, and he becomes frustrated enough to post. Suddenly, in this poster's opinion, Dreamhost service is "terrible" and so on and so forth.
With notable exceptions, checking the "profile" of a poster of a heavily negative post for the number of posts they have submitted, and how long they have been registered on the site, can give a pretty good indication of how "widespread" or "significant" their negative experience might be.
I think it is also important to remember that Dreamhost is big. With over 300,000 domains hosted at Dreamhost, if only 1 percent of those domains users are "unhappy" then hundreds of unsatisfied users, while they may be vocal, represent a very small percentage of Dreamhost users (I say "hundreds" rather than "thousands" to allow for many users hosting multiple domains - my arithmetic isn't that bad ).
I've also found it to be true that very often the most satisfied users feel no need to participate in forums as "all is well" in their world, and they have no need to seek help or vent. Generally, in an "unmoderated" forum such as this, you should expect for the "problem" posts to far outnumber the "Dreamhost Rocks!" posts (after all, that is one of the reasons the forum is here!).
Your suggestion re. an more sophisticated, possibly "automated", status reporting system is a good one, though the current Dreamhost system has served me well. Again, it is important to recognize the scale involved; a quick read through the typically ignorant comments of the Dreamhost Status blog (though it has been getting better, of late) will reveal that many users confuse the reporting of maintenance or a problem as being an indication that "the world is ending" without realizing that, with the number of servers Dreamhost is running, it is highly likely, and normal that "something" is always needing attention. I see the presence of problems and resolutions on the status blog as a sign that Dreamhost is actually maintaining their stuff, and that is encouraging to me.
Hey, that ramble was probably a good deal more than you asked for, but it should give you a pretty good idea about how this long-time customer views Dreamhost's quality and reliability.
These are machines, that break from time to time, run by people that "screw up" now and then. The great majority of the time, the machines work fine and the people perform admirably. The power, flexibility, and value provided by Dreamhost is unbeatable. Dreamhost Rocks!