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eQSL - The Final Courtesy

by Dave Morris, N5UP, Founder and Webmaster, eQSL.cc February 5, 2001

The world's first and only eQSL exchange centre, www.eQSL.cc, started the year 2001 with a bang. Only a few weeks earlier, on the first of December, it had blown through the 1 million card mark, and now 2 million cards were in the central database. But instead of slowing down, the rate increased as thousands of eQSL cards were uploaded every hour.

The eQSL.cc site was launched in April of 2000, and included about 1500 hams who had been part of an earlier experiment in an electronic QSL card exchange. The "big" idea was that eQSLs should not be sent around from person to person via e-mail, but should be available at any time through a web-based exchange system and a central database.

Other concepts using e-mail or by posting one stock QSL card on a web page and calling it an eQSL were not satisfactory, because security could not be guaranteed, e-mail addresses had to be looked up, and the sender had to laboriously design his QSL card using graphic design software.

So, we used our 25 years of software development and database design experience to develop a site where each user could guarantee his identity with a scanned image of his ham license, could lay out an eQSL card design using simple point-and-click forms, and could upload logbooks either one-at-a-time, or by uploading an entire ADIF format log file at once. The concept is such a breakthrough, we have patents pending on its technology.

To retrieve one of these eQSL cards, the recipient only need enter the callsign, date, and band of the QSO he wants to retrieve, and if the other ham has entered that QSO into the system, up pops the complete eQSL card, ready for printing on a local printer. Furthermore, if the recipient registers his callsign with us, he can get a listing of all incoming eQSLs, and can just point and click to print each card received. Sending a reciprocal card back is a matter of clicking a button!

Apparently, most everyone else thinks this is the right way to do it, too. Another six weeks after hitting the 2 million card mark, it appears the number of cards will double again to 4 million.

Many of the members of the eQSL.cc site are using stock images for their eQSL card designs. But since it is possible to upload a graphic image to use on one's card, there are many custom cards online as well. Users are signing up from over 180 countries all over the world. In many places, a stack of 500 traditional QSL cards might well cost the average ham operator and entire year's salary. On eQSL.cc, 500 beautiful full-color cards can be sent for free!

In an era when "dot coms" are failing left and right, it is noteworthy that the eQSL.cc site, which is supported almost entirely through voluntary donations, has been operating in the black since Day One. Since the site runs virtually without any human intervention, the only ongoing expenses are for development of new features, and for continually increasing disk space, processor power, and bandwidth. A small amount goes to answering the questions and suggestions that come into the webmaster's office by e-mail. In most cases, replies are returned within the same day.

Not everyone agrees that eQSLing is the way to go. Some people like to get their hands on that stiff cardboard with the exotic stamps that spent months in transit from the jungles of some island that is only above water for 3 weeks out of the year. Others are bothered that some amateur organizations still have "no electronic transmission" clauses in the rule books for their awards. Others still are spooked by the privacy issues that this interconnected new world brings up.

But it's very difficult to argue - as the saying goes - with success. And 4 million cards is success by anyone's measure. At the present growth rate (with the number of eQSLs doubling every month), eQSL.cc could be home to virtually all of the world's amateur radio operators within a couple of years. Contest "big guns" will be able to "QSL 100%" within a matter of minutes, saving hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars in the process. DXpeditions will be able to "QSL 100%" on the spot, whether it be from that desert island with a dial-up Internet connection, or when the crew gets back to "civilization". It's just a quick log file upload, and they are done!

And eQSLs, unlike their traditional cardboard counterparts, can be verified through automated computer interfaces by amateur organizations wanting to validate award and contest submissions. The presence of a scanned license image on file for each user goes way beyond the simplistic checking that is possible using the older traditional QSL cards.

And now eQSL.cc is also a favorite site for SWLs, because users can identify themselves as either licensed amateur operator, or SWL. The eQSL cards between SWLs and hams are automatically configured to contain proper SWL phrasing, making their lives easier and saving them tons of money.

Complex systems shouldn't be designed in a vacuum, so we have assembled a capable group of hams and SWLs into an Advisory Board. Among these advisors are users with satellite and DX experience, contesting backgrounds, and international origins, as well as technology gurus and people with long-term operating histories. This group discusses current issues and future development plans for the site on a daily basis. Just another feature of the interconnected world we have entered as the 21st Century dawns.

There were nay-sayers when SSB first began to push CW aside. There were those who thought packet radio was just a short-lived fad. Others thought we shouldn't be wasting money on amateur satellites. And some people think eQSLs are "not natural". But for tens of thousands of hams and SWLs who upload their entire logbooks nightly in an effort to live up to the "100% QSL" promise of amateur radio, the final courtesy of a QSO is an eQSL.

Permission granted to reprint this article in whole or in part. Please send an e-mail to Support1@eqsl.cc to notify us if you do so.


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