By now the geeky part of the blogosphere and, er, web-o-sphere has been rocked by the announcement of Ning two days ago. Check it out. Their one-line description reads “Ning is a free online service (or, as we like to call it, a Playground) for building and using social applications.”

What this means is they’re hosting a service/platform that allows people to build their own social software applications… things like online voting/polls, dating services, bookmarks, review sites. In theory the level of complexity in creating these ranges from point-and-click Clone-N-Theme all the way up to Advanced PHP Developer.

Yup, PHP. It looks like they’re opening the doors to the system and letting you code the apps directly. “Uh-oh,” I thought. “I hope they have PHP sandboxed.” And sure enough, it says in the FAQ that they do. Sounds iffy to me (let’s just say I’m glad I’m not responsible for running this service!), though I’ll give them points for innovation and guts here.

Looks like they offer up an API for their developer environment, all running under PHP 5. And from what I’ve been seeing, they’ve assembled a team of some of the top PHP people out there to put this together, so that’s impressive.

It’s all very Web 2.0, especially with tags (and the annoying/clever convention of showing the relative popularity of various tags with different font sizes). I don’t know, it looks interesting, and it’ll be hot for awhile, but I gotta wonder just how valuable it is to have hundreds of crappy variations of “Which is cuter,” most of which were created as throwaway examples and abandoned by idly curious people (like me)…