Via Chris Anderson, I read about Ning. Their goal, as I understand it, is to make it simple to create niche social software applications. Maybe, for you example, you want to create a map-based restaurant review site, or Friendster for bulldogs? Here’s the spiel:
On Ning, you can either develop an app from scratch by viewing the source code of other running apps to get ideas, or by cloning any running app and modifying it in any way you’d like. You can do this easily by clicking through any View Source or Clone This App link on the Ning Sidebar found on the right 225 pixels of any app.
Ultimately, though, you still need to understand PHP (or Ruby and Python soon) to build an application. So, as Roland comments in his review, “I love PHP but it ain’t Programming for the People and it ain’t Hypercard”. Mostly what’s happening so far are x vs. y games, such as, er, Got Milf?