Well, Mark tossed me a post about my observation about tagging in the finder and I’ve got a couple of emails in response (I guess I really should think about turning comments back on again). Bob introduced me to SpotMeta, which looks like it does what I want, so will investigate further. Meanwhile Stefan sent:
This may not be precisely what you’re talking about, but every file has an attribute called “Spotlight Comments” in which you may place text that is searchable by Spotlight. In addition to simply doing a Get Info on the file and entering the text, you can also do this via Automator, using the Add Spotlight Comments to Finder Items action.
The problem with just using spotlight comments is that I can’t add tags (the metadata) from within the application, which I should be able to do. For example, imagine if there was a tag field next to the file name and icon an application window’s title bar, or even down in the lower window bar (which often has lots of tools). That way the metadata is added as you work, not afterwards. The tag tool should share a common user defined library (duh) so that it knows what tags I have in my library so it is easier to keep using a common set. Finally I should be able to search on the tags, in the same way that something like Tinderbox lets you write agents, or Yojimbo lets me make a collection that is based on set tags. IN this way instead of having to catalogue in a hierarchy where objects generally only appear once, I can store somewhere arbitrary (filenames that start with ‘a’, or from November 2006) and then dynamically recatalogue (via an agent or a search) when I need material found or gathered (all documents tagged ‘memo’ ’2006′ and ‘hos’ (head of school)). As far as I know Spotlight can’t let me search just for the spotlight comments, which means it’s approach lacks the granularity that tagging thrives on.