At the moment Facebook is the number-one workplace distraction, says Alex Smith. The next big thing may be 3D real-world maps. Just make sure you don’t end up using them to find the dole office

Australians waste more than A$5bn (£2bn) worth of company time on Facebook every year, according to a new report. Notwithstanding the fact that Australians are about the most sociable tribe on the planet, it’s fair to assume that millions of Britons are also tagging and poking friends when they should be knuckling down to work.

The social networking site is the undisputed champion of workplace distraction, but online users are notoriously fickle. A few months ago Second Life was big and before that, Google Earth. A new application will, no doubt, usurp Facebook soon.

Google appears to be fighting back with the launch of its addictive Street View function on Google Maps. These offer photographic views of cities from street level, which means you can stroll past shops, homes and development sites in glorious 3D.

Microsoft and Yahoo are developing similar offerings and a company called Everyscape has a demo on its site that knits together photos to form an interactive map of Union Square in San Francisco (pictured). It plans to add more US cities to the site in the autumn.

Although potentially useful for construction professionals, the main reason for the great digital land-grab is virtual shopping. Google already pays commission to anybody who can supply photos and information on businesses, which can be married up with Street View to provide 3D shopping malls.

So far, only big US cities have been captured by Google but London will appear soon. A company called TX Immersive will capture the capital’s streets in 3D. So if you spot a VW Beetle with a spherical camera perched on top, make sure you smile – you wouldn’t want to be immortalised on Google Maps looking miserable.