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An insider is a member of any group of people of limited number and generally restricted access. In our complicated and information-rich world, the concept of insider knowledge is popular and pervasive, as a source of direct and useful guidance. In a given situation, an insider is contrasted with an outside expert: the expert can provide an in-depth theoretical analysis that should lead to a practical opinion, while an insider has firsthand, material knowledge. There are many popular cultural roles ascribed to the insider. In finance, insider trading on the stock market is widely thought of as a means of rapidly increasing wealth for the privileged few who have access to private business information. This is at times perceived as profiting unfairly at the expense of others. In everyday life, insider knowledge is seen as a source of practical information that is contrary to the standard or official advice, delivered in the form of tips from insiders in a wide range of industries.

In business, tips take the form of insider knowledge used by individuals and companies, often away from the view of the public. Jobs and contracts, while openly advertised, in fact go to people based on exchanges of various inside info between key parties. A variation of this is the insider-versus-expert authority conflict, where the uncredentaled, “non-expert” insider has a better functional knowledge of a situation, based on “how things really work”, than the outside experts, whose expertise is often embodied in a set of rules. In the media, investigative reports, exposés and inside stories are popular genres that usually rely on insiders speaking out, with results ranging from the trivial to the monumentally whistle-blowing.

And in information technology, an “insider” may refer to a member of a beta testing program who downloads, tests, and provides feedback on pre-release software. Insider is a fluid term with many usages, as we can be members of many ingroups and outgroups. It can positive, negative, or neutral connotations. It is probably safe to say that in all contexts, being an insider implies relatively great, if fleeting, personal power, and can engender respect, trust, or fear. Active participation is a defining factor: being a witness alone does not make a person an insider.

An insider is usually one who is privy to, not simply facts and procedures, but also the day-to-day working relationships and dynamics of people in a group. Underlying the concept of the insider is a widespread belief, and fact, that in most human social activities, there are two simultaneous, intertwined systems or processes at work: the “way things seem” and the “way they really are”. In any one situation, the way things seem may or may not actually be how things work most of the time, but there is always some significant deviation, usually through the clandestine activity of small numbers of individuals within the larger group. In this way, an insider comes into existence only on or near the act of revealing what they know to an outside party.