I’ve been intrigued  by the principals of lean start-ups.  The term was introduced by Eric Ries on his blog Lessons Learned.  (A expanded discussion of the concept is available here in a slide show format.)

Ries recently sat down with the blog VentureHacks to talk about the concept of the minimum viable product. The premise, loosely stated, is to have an absolutely clear idea of what you want the product to do and then build the minimum tool set that will allow customers to interact with the product along the lines you intend.  An important belief: “Early adopters have the same visionary ability as entrepreneurs do.”  When they use the product, they tell you what they really want.

The comments got me thinking about the way that traditional media brands approach Internet development.  A critical decision factor in development and timing is protecting the integrity of the brand.

The irony is that the “brand” is treated as a complete, finished product.  Traditional media isn’t iterative and collaborative, it’s monolithic and inflexible.  The traditional production paradigm in media is to wholly ideate and design the product (an issue, a show, an event) and then present it as a complete product and ask for feedback.

That was the old model of Internet development.  But the new model recognizes that frequent iteration can give the users a higher degree of intelligent influence on the eventual product.  Long beta, early release, compact development cycles are the keywords for the favored approach.  Think of Google Labs or the frequent iterations of Facebook.

When your focus is on protecting an old media brand you are going to miss the power of new media development: collaboration and interaction with your users.

You wouldn’t invite them into a design meeting, you say?  Maybe you would. I’ve heard recently from a Twitter follower who works at a magazine that Tweets multiple cover concepts to its followers and uses the one that get the most votes.

You can listen to the Ries interview below.