You may not have heard of Justin Bieber and could be excused for failing to recognise him were he seated next to you on the bus – which is unlikely because he's too busy eating the internet, site by site, gigabyte by gigabyte.
The diminutive Canadian pop and R&B phenomenon is, depending on your age, gender and tolerance levels for whiny teenage singers with dodgy haircuts, a heart-melting object of infatuation or a viral contagion infecting the web. First it was YouTube, which announced in July that Bieber, 16, had surpassed Lady Gaga to become the star of the most-viewed video in its history. "Baby feat. Ludacris", from the singer's debut album My World 2.0, had been seen more than 245 million times. Yesterday, that figure stood at 316 million.
Google, too, has been consumed by "Bieber fever" – the singer regularly tops search rankings – and now Twitter has revealed the extent to which the star drains its computing power.
Quoting an unnamed employee at the social networking site, Dustin Curtis, a prominent US blogger and designer, posted on Twitter this week: "At any moment, Justin Bieber uses 3 per cent of our infrastructure. Racks of servers are dedicated to him."
This 3 per cent figure is significant when set against the volume of short messages, or tweets, that course from users' computers and mobile phones through the fridge-like central computers, or servers, that Twitter operates at its California headquarters and at other sites in Texas and Boston.
The site, which has become a magnet for celebrities seeking direct and often lucrative links to fans, attracts 190 million visitors a month and carries 65 million tweets every day. Three per cent of that kind of traffic equates to a lot of Bieber activity.
A search on Twitter for mentions of "@JustinBieber", the singer's name on the site, yesterday lunchtime yielded more than 300 new results in the first three minutes. And that was before America, home to the majority of the star's (mostly female) fans had woken up. Twitter has claimed that during peak Bieber hours, he is mentioned 60 times every second. Messages ranged from the banal ("@justinbieber is the BEST!!!!!!!!!!") to the faintly desperate ("All I want is to meet @JustinBieber and my life will be complete") and the unrepeatable.
But just as "Beliebers", as his fans are called, lap up the singer's own tweets and music, a backlash against his ubiquity is brewing as an equally zealous army of hackers and haters, or non-Beliebers, perhaps, tries to cut him down.
Forums have urged users to flood Google with belittling searches such as "Justin Bieber takes oestrogen pills" so that they may appear on the site's Hot Searches list. Videos on YouTube have been hacked to re-direct visitors to adult websites and, last July, thousands of pranksters hijacked a fans' poll to choose the country Bieber should tour next – launching North Korea to the top of the list.
It's not surprising that Bieber is so big on the web – it was on YouTube that he was discovered by Island Records in 2007 after his mother, Pattie, posted videos of the boy singing near his home in London, Ontario.
Bieber has gone on to dominate the airwaves, topping charts all over the world. Yesterday, his march towards total domination continued, with the release of a trailer for a role in the US TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, to be screened next month. "He's made millions of fans cry tears of joy," the voiceover says. "But this fall on CSI, Justin Bieber will make you scream!" Whether those screams are of joy or rage, Twitter may wish to lay on more servers to cope with the reaction.
Other top Tweeters
Several big tweeters require dedicated servers to cope with traffic generated by fans. Singer-songwriter Lady Gaga is the most popular star with 6.1 million followers.
The tech-savvy US President boasts an impressive 5.3 million followers but doesn't have fans as febrile as Bieber's, posing less of a challenge for Twitter's infrastructure.
He may be small fry on the global stage, scraping into the Twitter top 100 with 1.7 million followers, but the polymath geek is a big fish this side of the Twitter pond.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies