User trust essential to successful evolution

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Shortly after our recent blog post about Google's mysterious fiddling about with its search function, the company announced some significant changes to its interface, which will see the top navigation bar removed completely and a new dropdown navigation menu take its place.

This perhaps explains why some features seemed to be switching off and on again at random during November 2011 – though didn't cast any light on why Google chose to experiment in such a visible way without explaining its actions.

The speculation and irritation that occurred as a result of the latter highlighted the significance of familiarity and intuition within our favourite internet services. The kind of tiny changes that some people perceive as minutiae can cause huge ripples in the comfort zone of someone who uses the internet intensively on a daily basis, whether for research, marketing or even social or personal connections.

Google's new navigation design will give it a much more personal focus, including increased prominence for Google+ – almost making it feel like a social network and search engine rolled into one, for those logged in.

Google has clearly been doing something right in the last decade, based on its meteoric rise and enormous market share. Arguably, a large part of this is the brand's minimal, straightforward approach. Web browser Google Chrome, in particular, appears to be thriving due to its uncluttered focus on speed and convenience.

This simplicity, however, is also what renders any changes so momentous.

Behind the scenes it is a different story, as the digital marketing industry fights to keep up with continual changes in algorithms and results selection processes – but the mainstream searcher usually sees little of this.

Brand identity

Some companies, on the other hand, wear their continual evolution on their sleeve. Facebook is one such brand – being complex and transient in nature, yet very accessible – and the news headlines that it generates don't seem to do its popularity much harm.

The social media website famously encounters intense criticism whenever it alters features, with users campaigning to restore previous formats. In September of this year, the Daily Mail reported that Facebook's news feed algorithm update had succeeded in 'goading its 750 million users into a fury'.

The report continued: "On Facebook's official blog, more than 7,000 users have offered comments on the new 'update' to the news service – many of them furious rants in capitals – and a mere 1,800 users have 'Liked' the service."

However, the website's membership is still on the rise – now standing at over 800 million. This indicates that while Facebook's changes upset users in the short term, the majority do accept them and move on, as the company steadfastly stands by its developments. Its design has been in a constant state of flux since its creation in 2004.

Facebook is also very focused on interaction and debate, being a public forum for information sharing. Google, meanwhile, is more authoritative, operating primarily to serve users with the results they want without any discussion.

In an industry where new initiatives launch every day and users are often fickle, users want to trust a brand. This applies not only to its corporate morals, but also to its dependability to provide what they want – and to being open and clear about what it is doing and why.

Liane Baddeley