We build digital tools for environmental sustainability.

ecoEXPLORE Educational and Citizen Science Web App

A revisioning project to evolve from a limiting WordPress website to a custom CMS backed by a high-performance database.

EcoEXPLORE is a program of the NC Arboretum that was created as a citizen science project to engage kids across the state of North Carolina in outdoor learning. The primary function of the site allows users to submit and identify photos of nature sightings. These interactions are incentivized by awarding badges and prizes for correct identifications.

The previous site used a custom WordPress codebase with a combination of complex plugins. It was constrained by the feature set of those plugins and susceptible to both code degradation and malicious attacks. In fact, toward the end of the time, the WordPress codebase was in use, the plugin supporting one of the site’s most critical features, membership, was subject to a zero-day vulnerability attack.

Following the recognition of these issues, FullSteam Labs worked with the ecoEXPLORE team to redesign the site and re-envision its technical architecture. The program was on the verge of expanding from a handful of participating counties to the entire state of North Carolina and they needed a more robust platform to serve a larger scale of users. They also desperately needed to break free of the constraints imposed by their existing codebase.

FullSteam Labs proposed a full reboot of the WordPress site using a custom-tailored content management system backed by a high-performance database. We developed a codebase that uses structured data types to model the application and implemented a continuous integration system for automating code deployment.

The result was a huge success, providing a highly performant platform, allowing EcoEXPLORE’s program to spread across the state and grow to nearly 5,000 users (and counting!)


FullSteam has continued maintaining the app and building out new features. We work with the EcoEXPLORE team to design new functionality, improve user experience for both the kids and the volunteers processors, and dream up new ways to make the app even more engaging.

In 2021 we launched a new badge earning system, EcoExplorer dashboard version 2.0, and a brand new “Challenges” component. In early 2022 we are rolling out new backend processor upgrades, bringing more automation, improved efficiency, and ultimately greater joy to the staff and volunteers that work hard to encourage and inspire the young learners.

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Our relationship with EcoEXPLORE is very valuable to us. Their program aligns with our mission of environmental stewardship through citizen science and nature education that’s fun! We look forward to the future of this program and to creating new ways to provide an impactful and joyful experience for the children, staff, and volunteers.