Web 2.0 phenomena have been called the “read/write” Web (Berners-Lee, 2005), where users’ contributing of comments and content can provide equivalent, and sometimes greater, value to a website than content merely posted in static pages by the site’s owner.
Warren, Jonathan. ‘Constructing Artistic Discourse: Amateur Reviews of Amateur Movies in a Large New Media Community.’ Working Paper, School of Libraryand Information Science, Indiana University, 1 May 2008.
This quote, and the many others like it, underscores how fannish content is almost always made up of not just a “work” but a “work” plus the conversation around it. A fic on AO3 is never just text posted by a writer; the text is literally surrounded by extra bits of content added by other fans, and that content helps shape meaning, telling other fans how to interpret it. Before we even start reading, we see how many hits or kudos or comments a fic has, and that influences how we approach that work. And we can add to the fic with our own kudos and comments.
Just like a fic on AO3 or ff.net or Wattpad isn’t just the author’s text, a piece of fanart on deviantART or pixiv isn’t just the image. That image comes embedded in a wealth of little bits of conversation built by many other fans interacting with it: likes, comments, indications of what user galleries or groups an image has been added to, user-added tags (for pixiv), and so on.
All that conversation surrounding a fic or a piece of fanart doesn’t just add “value"–it’s an integral part of the work. You can’t miss it, and if you want to see just the text or the image, you have to work to strip away the extra layers of content added to it by others.