Crowdsourcing Against Coronavirus: The COVID Translate Project’s Mission to Spread Knowledge Worldwide

Ariadne Labs
5 min readMay 22, 2020

By Ruby Kwak

In late March 2020, as COVID-19 infection rates climbed rapidly in the United States, Dr. KJ Seung of Partners in Health — a global health NGO based in Boston — reached out to his brother, Professor Sebastian Seung, a neuroscience and computer science professor, at Princeton University, with an unusual request for help.

Dr. Sebastian Seung had secured South Korea’s COVID-19 response guidelines and wanted to share them with others, but the Korean document was not available in English. The document, titled “Coronavirus Disease-19 Response Guidelines for Local Governments,” was published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and included many useful protocols, such as how to manage suspected and confirmed cases, testing and isolation guidelines, and how to conduct an epidemiological investigation. It was apparent that the document would benefit many in the trenches of the global pandemic, but the language barrier made it difficult to access the knowledge.

Professor Seung — a veteran of crowdsourcing — thought of a creative solution. On the evening of March 27, he tweeted a call for volunteers from across the globe to join a crowdsourcing initiative to rapidly translate the document into English.

The original tweet that marked the beginning of the Covid Translate Project’s journey

What followed was truly amazing. Within hours, more than 50 volunteers from around the world joined the Google Doc where translation was happening simultaneously on multiple pages. Some Korean celebrities retweeted the original post, quickly raising the profile and visibility of the work.

Teams for every major task (technical accuracy, formatting, glossary development, and more) spontaneously formed and volunteers from diverse backgrounds chimed in with their talents and expertise. A team member crafted a logo for the group, now known as the COVID Translate Project; software engineers built a…

Ariadne Labs

Our mission is to create scalable health care solutions that deliver better care at the most critical moments in people's lives, everywhere.