Trying to decide whether to design a fixed,relative or fluid layout, and what resolution to target can drive you nuts. There are too many factors to consider - popular opinions , statistics, what others are doing…
So how to decide what to target? Simple. Look at what similar successful sites are doing; If we look at facebook and orkut, it turns out that both are using fixed width layouts. That actually makes sense, because you would want more control over the presentation in a social networking site, it’s a major factor in drawing the users. Facebook is conservative and keeps the width to 799px at all times, therefore ensuring most of its users do not end up with the annoying horizontal scrollbar (unless they resize the browser window). Orkut targets higher resolutions and has a minimun width of 920px and maximum width of 1003 px.
According to W3Schools Browser display statistics, 14% of the users still use a resolution of 800x600, with the rest using bigger screen sizes. The application size should depend on your perceived audience, of course, and I would like 100% of my audience to be comfortable with the site. So, right now, targetting 800x600 screen size seems sensible or not a bad idea at least. Also, most of my colleagues with insanely large monitors and resolutions always resize their browsers and open multiple applications in parallel. So, targetting a smaller resolution should not lead to a lot of squinting.
This is the first post in a series on “Building My Own Social Networking site”, i hope to write many more as i progress with my site, which i work on in my spare time.