I wanted to open up a discussion about branding, and the possibility of making customizing a pod a bit easier. There were some ideas raised in the last discussion for the Branding Pack, and I think it merits bringing up again with some of the experienced Rails developers that work on our platform. :) This may fall a little beyond the scope of the current branding stuff, but I think it merits some discussion and thoughts.
Steven kicked around the idea a little while back about the possibility of using Engines for customizing the default experience of Diaspora pods, and I think this might make for a novel way to customize theme templates, as well as possibly offering additional functionalities as "extensions", rather than actually touching the core codebase. This could resolve some of the problems forkers have had in the past: rather than just forking the entire platform, they could wrap up the features they want into a Rails engine and offer it as an installable extension that could sit atop the main branch codebase.
Additionally, one gem that might be worth looking into would be the Deface gem, which is used by the Spree open commerce platform. It allows for overrides to existing templates, so a podmin could easily drop in their customized HAML templates (This discussion seems to indicate that HAML is in fact supported now), and customize their output of how their particular pod looks. I'm not sure of the current limitations to Deface, but I think it might be worth considering for sake of future flexibility.
I'd love to hear some thoughts on this, as it'd be great to make customization a very modular experience.