Read It Later with Omnivore

24 April, 2023

So much to read, and so little time ...

Blog posts, articles, essays, and more. Like many people, you probably have a pile of bookmarks pointing to whatever you want to read sometime in the future. But those bookmarks also tend to get buried under other ones.

So, what’s a poor, overwhelmed would-be reader to do? Turn to a read-it-later app. In the open source world, my long-time favourite is wallabag. Towards the end of 2022, I started hearing more about a read-it-later app called Omnivore. So much so, that I decided to give it a test drive.

Let’s take a look at what I found.

If you're looking for a comprehensive deep dive into Omnivore, this ain’t it. I’m only going to look at the basics of using Omnivore and will gloss over the features that I don’t use.

Getting Started

You can deploy Omnivore to your own server, or sign up for an account with the hosted version. I did the latter, in case you’re wondering.

If you decide to use the hosted version, you can login using a Google or Apple account, or set up an account with an email address and password. I went the latter route, mainly because I don’t use social logins.

Using Omnivore

OK, you’ve installed or signed up for Omnivore. What next? Log in. You’re presented with this screen (minus the articles you see in the image below):

Omnivore’s main screen

To add an article, essay, or blog post to read later copy its URL. Then, click the + Add Link button in the navigation bar on the left. This box displays:

Adding an article to Omnivore

Paste the URL into the box, then click Add Link.

On the main screen, you can click the three vertical dots in an article’s description to:

Reading an Article (and a Bit More)

Click on the article that you want to read. It opens in a distraction-free view, which looks like this:

Reading an article in Omnivore

As you’re reading, you can select a word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph and either add a yellow Highlight to it or add a Note. If you do the latter, this box displays:

Adding a note to an article in Omnivore

Type your note and then click Save. You can view your highlights in the article by pressing t on your keyboard or by clicking the View Notebook icon on the left of the screen.

You can also view highlights and notes in all articles you’ve read by clicking Highlights in the navigation pane on the main screen. This displays:

Viewing highlights and notes in Omnivore

Regardless of whether you save notes or highlights, when you’ve finished reading an article you can either press e on your keyboard or click the Archive icon on the left of the screen to remove it from the list of articles you’ve saved. You can go into the archive at any time by clicking Archived in the navigation pane on the main screen.

Setting an Article’s Preferences

Out of the box, an article that you read in Omnivore looks fine. But you can tweak its appearance by clicking the Aa icon in the top-right of the screen when reading an article. You can:

The changes you make apply to all articles, not just the one you’re reading.

Browser Extensions

Jumping into Omnivore to save an article can be a bit of a pain. You can install a browser extension that saves an article by clicking a button on your browser’s toolbar.

There are extensions for:

I’ve run into one annoyance with the browser extension: you need to be logged into Omnivore for it to work. I guess years of using wallabag have spoiled me — you can set up credentials for wallabag’s browser extension so you don’t need to log in before saving articles. There doesn’t seem to be a way to do that with Omnivore. Maybe in the future?

Going Mobile

Not all of use read from our desktops or laptops. At least, not all of the time. Many of us are just as likely to read on our phones or tablets.

There are apps for Android and iOS. I’ve used the Android version on my phone and, as read-it-later apps go, it does a decent job.

Here’s the article view in the Android app:

Article view in the Omnivore Android app

And here’s an article that I was reading while working on this post:

Reading an article in the Omnivore Android app

You can save an article from a web browser using the Share function. In the app, you can add notes and highlights as well as change the article preferences (as you can in the web app).

Is That All?

Omnivore has a few other functions, two of which are notable. You can switch between light and dark mode (if that’s your thing). And you can generate an Omnivore-specific email address.

Why? You can use that to subscribe to email newsletters or blogs and read those in Omnivore rather than in your email client. Anything to which you subscribe appears in the Subscriptions tab in the navigation menu on the main screen.

I haven’t tried subscribing to anything using an Omnivore email address (I have too many subscriptions as it is), so I can’t tell you how well or badly that feature works.

Final Thought

Omnivore won’t stop you from piling up the digital equivalent of tsundoku — you actually have to read what you collect! It does give you a comfortable, easy to use, and flexible way to catch up on your online reading. Even though wallabag is still my choice for a read-it-later app, Omnivore (thanks to its slightly more modern look and feel) is starting to make me reconsider that.

Regardless, if you’re looking for an open source alternative to Instapaper and Pocket, then Omnivore is worth a look.

Scott Nesbitt