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Helio's new nightlife search site has lofty ambitions

Still struggling to gain critical mass, the small wireless carrier launches an ambitious events and entertainment search feature and hopes to add GPS functionality soon.

Youth-oriented mobile carrier Helio announced Wednesday that it has launched a bar and restaurant search site through a partnership with Buzzd, which also powers the mobile sites for local events and entertainment services like TimeOut New York, and Flavorpill.

Helio's new service, which is ad-supported, lets people in major U.S. cities search on the mobile Web site--linked from the home page of the carrier's browser--for bars, clubs, and restaurants. Most of the data will be pulled from Buzzd partners like Flavorpill, TimeOut, and the IAC-owned Citysearch. Added on, however, will be "event feeds" with specific pricing and night-specific details as well as short user reviews in real time.

So, theoretically, searching for the downtown New York hotspot Libation on a Saturday night could yield an update from another Buzzd user an hour earlier, saying "Ew, tonight's bouncer's mean and the line takes 30 minutes."

Perhaps more exciting is the fact that Helio is working to pull GPS into the mix. The carrier's current handsets come with the technology already, and a representative told me that the Buzzd service will eventually integrate GPS, so people won't have to say exactly where they are in order to find nearby parties and bars. (Right now they have to provide a location or street intersection.)

The catch is that Helio, which has struggled with growth and profitability, is a small carrier. Generating the critical mass for "real-time" reviews of a particular nightclub on a particular date will be tough, so the service may not turn out to be quite as teeming with up-to-the-minute information as Helio and Buzzd are hoping.

That said, location-based mobile services are revving up, and some will take off as soon as GPS-enabled handsets go into broader use or as soon as people whose devices are equipped with GPS realize that they have it. (I've noticed many people still don't know.)

Competitors in this space include Loopt, which has deals with mobile carriers Sprint and Boost, and Socialight. The latter is currently more like a user-generated version of Gridskipper city maps but has hinted at plans to move into the GPS sector when the technology becomes more widespread.