Interview with Microsoft Partner and Forum Ninja – Noel D Paton

Forum Ninjas Blog

Welcome to another Interview with a Forum Ninja!

Today we’re going to get to know one of the blog's members, Microsoft Partner, Forum moderator, and Forum Ninja…

Noel is an active member in the forums since 2008, with stunning statistics that says it all.

Noel's Stats:

  • About 110k Recognition Points!
  • 7,861 Answered Questions
  • 2,282 Helpful Posts
  • Over 23k Replies
  • Total of 27 Medals

Noel Avatar Noel D Paton

There is no better way to meet someone than to get him to answer some questions about himself and about his roles in the forums. Let's go to meet Noel...

Who are you, where are you, and what do you do? What are your specialty technologies?

Hi, I am Noel Paton (Noel D Paton in the MS forums, and NoelDP in third-party forums), and I live in Holywell, North Wales. I’m currently employed as a Quantity Surveyor for a local construction contractor although by training I’m a coatings chemist. My specialty in the MS forums currently is answering questions on the problems about Microsoft and Windows Genuine Advantage (MGA and WGA for short). Elsewhere, I also attempt to solve problems related to Windows Update.

Noel Paton - before Noel Paton - After

The above are two extreme images of me – I had the hair and beard cut off for charity in August 2013. Nowadays I tend to be closer to the bald version than the Gandalf version!

What Microsoft Forums do you participate in? What different roles do you play?

Most of my MS forums belong under the umbrella of the MGA banner – with occasional forays elsewhere if someone asks for assistance on MGA-related matters, or I spot a related thread that needs specialist attention (or if I have a few minutes to spare!). I’m the only regular responder on MGA matters (so anyone who wants to lend a hand would be welcome!) so if I take a holiday nothing gets answered. I also moderate the MGA forums, and one or two other mostly  administrative ones also.

In what other sites and communities do you contribute your technical knowledge?

I am resident MGA expert at and also help out at with MGA problems. I am a sort of visiting expert at the Microsoft Community Forums – a number of the responders there will email me if they see a problematic MGADiag report, and request assistance. Of necessity I had to learn how to recognize and perform essential file-replacements for MGA work, which led to me also learning a fair amount of Windows Update troubleshooting, so I also help out with that (for historical reasons Activation always seems to come under the umbrella of Updates in non-MS forums so I got to read an awful lot of WU questions that had simple answers, and responded…)

On what forum threads have you collaborated with other community members to help answer a question?

My favourite thread of this kind is 99 posts long – a poster came in with a problem that was obviously registry-related, and my knowledge at that time was effectively zero. I called in a friend (David Candy) from the old newsgroup days, and over a period of 97 posts, and a fair number of emails between David and myself (to avoid confusing the OP) we eventually worked out what the problem was, and found the solution!

As I said above, I often come in to assist responders who are having problems, although this is mainly on third-party sites, as there’s no easy way to contact fellow forum users in the MS forums without advertising personal email addresses (my major gripe about the MS forums!). Over the years, I’ve also come to know and respect many of the responders there, and am a little awed by a good few.

What are your favorite forum threads you’ve contributed on?

The one I mentioned above is at

There are a few others that I remember ‘fondly’ for one reason or another – not necessarily as successful threads, or even particularly ‘good posts’, but just because they struck a chord with me. I remember one young chap who for a while kept pestering the forum with different attempts hacking Windows Activation – in the end it became almost a game to try and guess what variant he’d try next. In the end he just faded away, as none of the different machines and hacks he tried to get us to ‘fix’ was anything like genuine.

What forums need more attention? What could they use more of?

As I’m the only active responder and moderator covering the MGA forums, we could do with a couple more responders, and another regular moderator/answerer, since I end up tagging a lot of my own responses. Luckily, almost all of the spam gets caught before I see it, so there’s not really a problem that way. The traffic is dropping off quite markedly since the launch of Win10, as neither 8 nor 10 are represented in there – it could be an idea to create forums for them, but the guys in the MS Community forums seem to be getting reasonably adept at dealing with those, and pointing people to those forums covers the need as  far as I can see.

What could we do differently on MSDN and TechNet Forums?

We could do with a background messaging capability – it can immensely help responders to be able to query colleagues off-thread, and currently there is no way to do that unless they have made their contact information public in some way. Defaulting the ability to ‘off’ and locking people out of it until they have met a threshold would reduce the chatter, while still enabling regulars to cross-fertilise capabilities and knowledge without distracting a possibly already-confused OP.

Who has impressed you in the Forums community, and why?

There are any number of people who have impressed me for any number of reasons – it really would be unfair of me to single anyone out.

What does success look like for Microsoft Forums?

I always get a warm glow when I see a poster actually remembering to say ‘Thank You’ at the end of a thread – especially if there wasn’t a full resolution of the question/problem. Forums can depersonalise the participants, and it’s important to remember that there are real live people (possibly with major problems in life) on the other side of any thread. It’s that little phrase at the end of a thread which tells me that the forums are working.

Do you have any comments for product groups about the MSDN and TechNet Forums that they moderate?

The MGA Forums have been ‘orphaned’ since the departure of the only MS contact we had back in mid-2012. MS need to make a decision as to whether to retire them completely and direct querents to the MS Community forums instead, or to support them with someone who can query the MS Activation database to answer the questions involving Blocked Keys (they could also do the same function over in the Community – where it’s also needed!)

Do you have any tips for people asking questions on MSDN/TechNet Forums?

Always read any Stickies at the head of the forum, and always start a new thread of your own. Even if your problem is almost identical to someone else’s, there is a good chance that your problem is different, and diving into a previous thread (especially if it’s still current) could only confuse the issue and make a solution more difficult to find!

Do you have any tips for people answering questions on MSDN/TechNet Forums?

Always remember that the person may have problems outside the forum which may inhibit their responses – expanding a question to include other things may be fun, but you need to sit back and answer only the question(s) that’s asked, as the OP  may not have either time, knowledge, or inclination to do anything other than get their question/problem solved. They are probably already frustrated when they get to the forum, and a responder waxing lyrical about something marginally off-topic is likely to increase that frustration.

Every day you’ll learn a little – some days you’ll learn a lot. I’ve been publicly pilloried, and praised (occasionally in the same thread)  so a thicker-than-usual skin is a necessity, but you can develop that over time. If a thread gets too heated, try to hand it off to someone else before you feel like jumping down a poster’s throat!

Are there certain days or hours in which you use the forums more frequently?

I used to be on multiple forums 16+ hours a day back when I was unemployed – and loved every minute of it. Recently I had problems with my eyesight, and had to minimise participation as a result. Now I’ve had two operations (cataract) and I’m getting back into the forums – and trying to get back into a routine where I spend an hour on the forums before going to work, then another hour or two in the evening

Do you want to add something in conclusion?

I’ve loved helping others in either newsgroups or forums ever since I started back in 2001, supporting Windows ME (after an abortive experience with MS Support over the phone – which actually turned out to be because I’d misunderstood something the tech said) and first received an MVP award in 2002 (last one was in 2006). I fought against the move to the Forums but in retrospect it was probably mostly fear of the unknown that drove that reaction. When I had to take a time-out for a couple of years, the switch was complete when I came back, and I began to see what the benefits of a forum were. That is a lesson that everyone needs to learn – change is not always bad. Every time a new version of Windows comes out there are many people who say they’ll never change from their beloved <insert OS version here>. They aren’t luddites – merely in their comfort zone. Change for change’s sake is not a good thing – but change is inevitable in anything manmade, and early adopters tend to take the cream, while everyone else plays catch-up!

Thank you, Noel, for your contributions to the community and to the forums! It was really great to hear from you directly, and nice to know more about you.

Please join me in thanking Noel!

Forums, the final frontier
- Ronen Ariely,
Star Trek - The Final Frontier