What the Hell is RSS? A Quick Primer
I share your befuddlement. Or did, until I figured out that what the acronym stands for really means what it says: Really Simple Syndication—syndication being a fancier way of saying distribution or circulation.
If you want to keep up with a web site’s very latest, within minutes of its being posted, RSS is for you. It’s a sort of live subscription: virtually the moment an item is posted at the Notebooks (or any site with those orange RSS buttons), it’ll appear in your RSS subscription “feed.”
And where the hell is that feed?
You can create it in several places, all in a couple of steps. If you click on the little orange button you see on the left of this page (or this line of text), you’ll be given a choice to “subscribe” (free) through, say, your web browser, your feed “reader” or through a bookmark in your browser. Let’s assume you want the Notebooks’ feed. You click on the orange button. You’re immediately taken to a page that lists the Notebooks’ contents in headline and summary form. (If you click on the button and you end up and nothing happens, or you end up with a screen full of gibberish, then you're either using an older browser or Internet Explorer, which is significantly inferior to Firefox. No problem: that's why I included two options. Instead of clicking the RSS button by the Notebooks, click on the one by Feedburner; it provides more and older options.)
Either way, at the top of the page you’ll be given a few choices: subscribe using live bookmarks, or using Google Reader or Yahoo or Bloglines (or many other choices if you're going through Feedburner). The simplest thing is to have it appear in your customized Google or Yahoo search page. If you choose Google, Google will then ask you if you want the Notebooks added to you customized Google home page (that’s what I use, it’s easiest) or to your Google Reader, where you collect all the RSS feeds you want (it should look like this). From there on, the Notebooks will automatically appear the moment you open your Google search page (assuming you’ve customized it) or those other lesser ones. If you choose to subscribe through a live bookmark, you’ll have the Notebooks immediately appear either on the toolbar of whatever browser you use: when you click on the bookmark, all the recent items at the Notebooks will magically open in various tabs.
If you’ve made it through this wordy explanation, you have a 37 percent chance of having understood RSS. Enjoy. Better yet: write me a better explanation to entice people to use the damn thing. I should note that RSS subscriptions are independent of email subscriptions, and not mutually exclusive.