I completely agree. I, too, have found myself playing less and less, mostly due to the fact it seems like it has become single player recently. Usually the only others on are in perpetual AFK mode, or are not very chatty. I have mostly downgraded from using diamond armor/tools purely because it takes so long to get to a wilderness portal.
I like the idea about 8 portals based on the cardinal directions, but I think the best stations for them would be E, W, N, S, FSW, FSE, FNW, and FNE. This would ensure that every station is only 1 ride away from any given station, making best use of the travel time.
E: I misread, my mistake.
While I do think portals would be best, I think maintaining the wilderness/nether portals is important. This spreads people out, even if it does push them apart. One remedy for this might be to have the other wilds portals in the wilds themselves, a little ways off from the hub portal. This would force people to go to the hub whenever they need resources, while retaining the ability to go elsewhere in the wilds quickly.
Just my thoughts