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A brief history
Uniswap was founded by Hayden Adams, a former engineer at Siemens. After receiving several grants as well as $100,000 from the Ethereum Foundation, Uniswap launched in November of 2018. Uniswap is a decentralized exchange (DEX) which uses a unique automated market maker (AMM) model that allows users to swap tokens without an intermediary, a breakthrough innovation on traditional order books managed by centralized exchange providers. DEXs use smart contracts to facilitate trades and don't use custodial wallets. And instead of the more traditional order books with a buyer and a seller, most DEXs (including Uniswap) use liquidity pools. For example, an investor might put Ethereum (ETH) and Uniswap (UNI) into a liquidity pool on Uniswap. They'd then get paid a percentage of the trading fees each time people swapped ETH for UNI or UNI for ETH. Uniswap users can earn UNI by providing liquidity on the platform.
UNI in practice
UNI is the governance token for Uniswap, crypto's most popular decentralized exchange (DEX). UNI holders can vote on key decisions around the protocol, such as treasury usage and platform upgrades. 1 billion UNI tokens have been minted at genesis- 60% of those are distributed to existing Uniswap community members, while the remaining 40% will be made available to team members, investors and advisors over the course of four years. The community distribution happens through liquidity mining. This means that UNI will be distributed to those who provide liquidity to the following Uniswap pools: ETH/USDT, ETH/USDC, ETH/DAI, and ETH/WBTC.