Among other things, one of the features of the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program that attracted me was that no QSL cards are required. All I needed was a brand new award program with literally tens of thousands of possible contacts that I needed QSL cards for to get the award. The founders of the program were right in finding a way around QSL's. I think the approach used by SOTAis very modern day and is a model that could duplicated by others.
The programs incents activators with awards just like the chasers are incented. In fact there are many who chase activator awards solely. To have an activation count towards awards, the total log must be uploaded to the SOTA database. From a chaser perspective to have your chaser points count for awards, you must also upload your logs. When the two databases are compared to each other, you have an automated confirmation system. Obviously not every activator will enter their logs, but not to worry if you are a chaser, the QSO's still count as long as you enter the contact into the database. There is this unique dynamic called "trust" at play here.
Given all of this user provided input, many numbers can be generated that show the trends in the program. As of 13:00 UTC on 25 April, 2013 here are some of the numbers.
Total Registered Participants 5,872
Activators only 1,082
Total QSO's 1,779,791
Mode QSO's (most popular)
Band QSO's (most popular)
As you can see, there is something for everyone. When the program first started, over 10 years ago, my impression was that this was primarily a Euro-centric activity on VHF. And while there is significant VHF activity, you can see that it is also very much an HF program as well. I would say that most of the activity is also done with portable QRP radios, however, many inter-contenental QSO's are made. Being on top of a mountain has its advantages from gain perspective.
Other features of the program promote activity, a chaser can get points for any qualifying summit once per day, so no need to keep a needed list. If it's a new day and you hear it, work it. That dynamic also provides a poplation for the activators to work. If the summit was activated yesterday, no worries, everyone still needs it today. although an activator can only get activation credit a summit once per year. So activators are encouraged to do different summits.
Looking at the numbers above, I can't think of a program that would have a ratio of activators to chasers as small as this, almost one to one. Of course there are many who both chase and activate, but this is a very interactive program. It is also a ham radio activity that allows some exercise, something we could all use a little of.
The awards are too numerous to go into here. You have awards based on points, numbers of unique summits worked, number of different assoications worked and many others. There is something for everyone.
There is also fast growing support of SOTA with phone apps and other software to make logging and activating easier. I predict this program may be about to explode, even more than it has already.