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Building the Recite Chrome extension

Rediscover your reading gems in new tabs

A few months ago I decided to build a little software project to solve a problem that I’ve had for years: I read a lot of books that have really great quotes that I have saved to my notes or Kindle notebook, but then I never look at them again after finishing the book.

I wanted a low-friction way to recall these excellent snippets of writing I had squirreled away into the dark depths of my note-taking and reading apps. My first instinct was to seek out an existing tool that already does this. Others might immediately jump to building their own custom solution, but I am both busy and lazy. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel when my fellow engineers have already built something that can satisfy 80-90% of my needs.

A Chrome extension that modified new tabs to display one of my saved quotes was exactly what I was hoping to find. I thought that this surely existed, especially because one of the most popular Chrome extensions of all time is Momentum—a beautiful new tab experience that displays an inspiring quote each day.

momentum-extension Momentum is a super popular extension that modifies your Chrome new tab to inspire you to be more productive.

The only trouble with Momentum was I couldn’t customize it to show a quote from my own set of saved quotes, it only showed quotes from their preselected set of list of inspirational quotes. I also didn’t need all the other bells and whistles that Momentum provided. So how hard could it be to find a different extension that did what I wanted?

Turns out it was impossible because it didn’t exist.

The closest I found was Readwise, a cross-platform app that integrates directly with different reading sources and aggregates all your highlights. You can have a daily review of your highlights or get a regular email digest of past quotes. It seems like a really lovely product and apparently people have built very powerful and complex workflows using it.

readwise-app Readwise also supports powerful features like spaced repetition, tagging, notes, and search to enhance your collection of highlights.

But for me, getting another email sent to the blackhole of my personal inbox didn’t really satisfy my “low-friction” use case. Plus $5/mo seemed like a steep price for reminding me of my own saved highlights that I painstakingly collected over the years.

So I guess I had to build it myself.

I’m proud to announce Recite, a simple Chrome extension to display your reading highlights. It’s free to download from the Chrome web store, and does not collect any data or personal information.

How it works is each time you open a new tab, the extension will fetch a random quote and display it with a minimal and elegant design.

recite-screenshot An example of Recite in action, displaying a quote randomly selected from my saved collection.

It’s powered using Google spreadsheets to store and retrieve your personal collection of quotes. If you have your quotes stored in different format, I have created a spreadsheet template you can use to get started.

recite-authentication You’ll give permission to the extension to access your Google spreadsheets from the settings page.

You can also choose one of five different color schemes for your saved quotes! I have actually switched between the color schemes a few times when I want a new mood or visual change.

recite-settings You can also test which color scheme you like the best by loading a sample quote from your Google spreadsheet.

I’ve been using it for a while to randomly select from my saved quotes (447 rows and counting!) and it’s been honestly delightful. Whenever I open a new tab, I can take a few seconds to read a quote that reminds me of a good book or intriguing concept I have forgotten. It’s also wonderfully low-pressure because I can always ignore the quote if I’m rushing to get some work done—I know that there will always be another quote in another new tab that I can read when I have more leisure time.

quote-settings Individual columns can also be configured to update the display if you already have an existing spreadsheet that you don’t want to modify.

If you want to look at the source code or load an unpacked version yourself (using your own Google spreadsheets API key), you can check out the code here. You can also see the Google OAuth and API usage policy and privacy policy for more details.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.

This article was last updated on 4/2/2023. v1 is 779 words and took 1.5 hours to write and edit.