What looks like a small tweak made to Twitter‘s user interface today, is actually a fairly big change.

The “Replies” tab has been changed to “@USERNAME.” While you may think they’re the same thing, this tab will now show anytime someone says your name anywhere in a tweet. So, for example, if someone writes “how long until @parislemon posts on the new Twitter feature?” I will see it in my @parislemon tab.

In writing about the change, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone notes that the @reply syntax only came into existence because users started communicating with each other that way — Twitter actually never meant for it to be a feature. And now many users are modifying the way they use it, including @replies in the middle and end of messages, and so Twitter felt the need to modify how these appeared on the site once again. It’s a welcome move.

Twitter smartly added a link to explain the change right on top of the main reply stream, so users won’t be confused by the many more replies they’re going to start seeing. And other services will be able to make this change as well, as this update will be included in the Twitter application programming interfaces (APIs).

This change should cut down on the need for people like yours truly to do vanity searches on Twitter Search every 15 minutes to see who is trying to talk to/about me without directing tweets right at me.

This tweak comes before Twitter could be seeing some significant changes to its overall design. The company recently hired Douglas Bowman to be its new creative director (a role previously held by Stone). Bowman is Google’s former visual design lead, who recently left the company amid some controversy after a blog post about the design atmosphere at the engineering-driven Google.

Fast Company first wrote about the rumor last week, and it was confirmed today by Creative Capital. “The Twitter Web page looks pretty simple. But from our perspective the design needs a lot of work,” Stone told Creative Capital’s Spencer Ante.

Update: It looks like there’s also been a small tweak to the design when you send a direct message from Twitter’s website. Now, you’ll see a notification overlay scroll down from the top of the screen, letting you know the message has been sent.

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