Firefox parent company Mozilla Corp. has hired Tantek Çelik, a well-known figure in the developer and open-Web community, for the role of Web standards lead.
But as Mozilla deals with internal issues and a continued threat from Google's Chrome, where exactly does this hire fit in? CNET spoke with Çelik on Tuesday, on the eve of his first day at the new job, and rather than talking about keeping ahead of Chrome or dealing with Facebook's increasing dominance, he said that what's really in his crosshairs is the iPhone--and how pretty it makes everything.
Mozilla "knows that the open Web platform is a few steps behind the iPhone and iPad," said Çelik, who's presently a contractor at the browser manufacturer but said it could turn into something bigger. "They know that they're in this evolutionary race and they just have to crank up the heat on everybody."
On a basic level, his role in Mozilla will be twofold, addressing both user interface and social networking.
"My goal is to help Firefox raise the bar in what Web developers expect Web applications to support," he said, explaining that he hopes his work at Mozilla can help browser-based applications built with standards like HTML5 and CSS3 rival those of the iPhone and iPad in user interface and social-networking depth. "My belief is that by basing our work on simple, open, accessible Web standards, that we can help usher in a whole new era of distributed social Web sites."
Çelik, who describes his professional objective on his Web site as "to help you and your company kick ass with modern Web standards," has worked at both Apple and Microsoft, where he helped develop the Mac OS version of the Internet Explorer browser. So, he told CNET, a return to browsers is a return to his roots, enhanced by the fact that in the meantime he's worked to develop Web-based microformats like hCard, which forms a largely unseen backbone to how our identities are transported across the Web. Another microformat, hReview, is why the rating stars from reviews sites like Yelp automatically appear in Google search results.
"This is not a biz-dev deal where one company gets a 'data dump' from another company," Çelik said. "This works for everyone, which means even small companies, or sites by individuals can participate in the giant global address book that hCard has enabled."
There have been attempts to make a more social-networking-friendly browser before, most notably Flock in 2006, but Çelik said that Flock's attempt to build in support for individual social networks one at a time isn't a sustainable strategy. "Biz-dev doesn't scale," he reiterated. "You have to build based on open standards...The partnership-centric strategy has been tried and has failed numerous times. That's not how the physics of the Web works."
But user interface is key, too. "iPhone apps are still way ahead (of Web apps) in terms of look and feel, elegance, polish," he said. "All of that is stuff we can potentially build into CSS3. And for things like drag and drop and access to the hardware, the built-in camera and GPS, that's where HTML5 APIs can make a difference."
Talk of the "open Web," at least in the press, has been a bit doomsday of late because of Facebook's extraordinary recent moves toward connecting the far-reaching corners of the Web with its own, in-house technologies like Social Plugins. True, Facebook has been working to improve its standing in the open-source community, hiring prominent advocate David Recordon in the process. But each time it makes a big step in embracing an open standard (like its April announcement that it had partnered with Twitter and Yahoo to integrate the OAuth 2 authentication standard) Facebook seems to launch, in tandem, more proprietary Web technologies of its own.
But when asked whether--in these days when a Facebook-dominated Web looks more and more likely--there was anything reactionary about Mozilla hiring a prominent figure in open standards and social networking, Çelik replied with a question:
"Ask yourself, who isn't afraid of Facebook?"
This story was updated at 8:24 a.m. PT to note that Çelik is currently a contractor rather than a full-time employee.